British and American Security Agencies Spy on Millions Through Webcams

Friday, February 28, 2014

A webcam is positioned in front of a danger sign on June 28, 2013 in Paris. (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty)

The right to privacy, something a lot of people often forget, is not something explicity written into the Constitution. Nor is there a freestanding right to privacy law in the United Kingdom.

But that doesn't mean that millions weren't surprised to learn on Wednesday that, with help from the National Security Agency (NSA), the British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) captured and stored the webcam images of millions of Yahoo users worldwide.

The surveillance program, code named Optic Nerve, was enacted in 2008 to collect still images from Yahoo webcam chats in bulk for the purpose of monitoring targets and testing facial recognition technology—regardless of whether or not the internet user was considered to be a security threat.

GCHQ documents, which were provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that somewhere between three and 11 percent of those images were sexually explicit and that the program was still active in 2012.

Yahoo has denied any prior knowledge of Optic Nerve and described it as being a "completely unacceptable" violation of privacy. Yet GCHQ said in a statement that what the agency did was not unlawful.

Joining The Takeaway is Spencer Ackerman, U.S. national security editor at The Guardian and the reporter who broke the story. He explains how the government was able to get access to this information.


Spencer Ackerman

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [2]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Anyone not logged in with The NSA or GCHQ will be considered a real suspect and investigated.
Your online presence guarantees that no one is paying attention to you.

Be Seeing You

Feb. 28 2014 12:00 PM
ML from Miami FL

For all of you nitpicking our national budget, think about how much our tax dollars go to capturing and storing hours of audio/video. Millions? Billions? Untouchable? Up to a third of your income goes into things like that and it won't help you when you're a senior and living a quarter of the quality of life you once had. Maybe it'll be soothing to know there'll be footage of you when you had a life.

Feb. 28 2014 09:51 AM

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