I still remember many years ago in response to becoming aware of the possibility that my computer webcam could be accessed remotely I decided to put a piece of duct tape over the camera. I also remember the look on some of my friends’ faces upon seeing this. They thought I was nuts. It wasn’t even a conversation I was comfortable having since the idea that the government or NSA could or would peep on innocent Americans through their webcams was beyond preposterous for the vast majority of people
This topic is not exactly new, and I addressed it last April in my piece: A Look into the Malware the FBI Uses to Spy Through Webcams.
Now, thanks to Edward Snowden, we know more. Much, much more.
From the Guardian:
Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.
Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.
While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360′s Kinect camera, saying it generated “fairly normal webcam traffic” and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.
It’s interesting that they were considering using the Kinect camera for spying, something I wrote about last spring in my post: What’s in Your Xbox? A Lot of Surveillance Capabilities.
Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.
Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras – “think Tom Cruise in Minority Report”, one presentation noted.
Don’t forget: Your Government Loves You. Particularly your nude webcam pics.
Full article here.