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Government spy agency collects millions of Yahoo webcam images

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Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats, British newspaper the Guardian reported Thursday.

The surveillance program, codenamed Optic Nerve, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users. The images were saved to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

To avoid overloading GCHQ's servers the program saved one image every five minutes rather than collecting entire webcam chats. The system was used for experiments in automated facial recognition as GCHQ attempted to monitor existing targets and to discover new targets of interest.

Since webcam chats are often used to share intimate moments, GCHQ struggled to keep the large quantities of sexually explicit images collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff.

According to their website, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is an intelligence and security organization, working to keep Britain safe and secure in the challenging environment of modern communications. GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.

When contacted by the Guardian, Yahoo denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy"

Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show Optic Nerve began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012.

According to an NSA spokesperson the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.

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What are you thinking about today?

In 1949 George Orwell published the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which describes a society under complete surveillance by the authorities. The citizens of Orwell's world are constantly reminded that "Big Brother is watching you."

Do you think that every day we get one step closer to the world Orwell describes?

Look for Tom Peracchio on the net ... The Guru 42 Blog, @Gu42 on Twitter , Guru42 on Google+ or Guru42 on Facebook

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