Yahoo webcam images, numbering into the millions, were intercepted, stolen and stored by British and American spies, in what is yet another blow to cyber security concerns and an intrusion on basic rights to privacy.
U.K. news outlet The Guardian said on Thursday that Britain's surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), with aid from the U.S. National Security Agency, “intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.”
The news of this latest trampling of rights by an overstepping government comes from (who else?) former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently holed up in Russia but has promised additional releases of such pejorative evidence.
Among the stored images from the webcam chats were thousands of sexually explicit photos. The GCHQ files were stored from 2008 through 2010, using a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve, which saved one image every five minutes from randomly selected Yahoo webcam chats.
Over 1.8 million webcam users globally, in a six-month period in 2008 alone, had their privacy violated.
"It is a long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," a GCHQ spokesperson said on Thursday in a typical non-statement.
“Unfortunately, it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one document leaked by Snowden says. “Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”
The GCHQ estimated that between 3 percent and 11 percent of the images it vacuumed and stored were of an explicit nature.
The Guardian confronted Yahoo! execs on the matter, who immediately expressed outrage and wholly disavowed any collaboration with the NSA or the GCHQ.
“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” a Yahoo spokesperson said. “This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable… We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”