Forget about phone and email surveillance. New revelations from Edward Snowden may dwarf those concerns, as top-secret documents show that surveillance operatives are collecting and storing webcam images.
British spies, in cooperation with the National Security Agency, are collecting webcam images of millions of Internet users through a program known as “Optic Nerve,” according to excerpts of secret documents published by The Guardian on Thursday.
During a six-month span in 2008, British agents collected still webcam images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo users worldwide, “including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications.” Snapshots from Yahoo chats were taken once every five minutes and stored on the British agency’s database.
Yahoo denied being aware of the program prior to The Guardian story.
“This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December,” a Yahoo spokesperson said in a statement to National Journal. “We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”
The British government lacks the technical ability to discern whether the images it collects are from its own citizens or from others, including Americans. There is no law in the United Kingdom preventing the collection of images from Americans’ webcams without an individual warrant. Unlike the NSA, British authorities face no legal requirement to scrub certain information gathered on citizens from its database.
Why Yahoo? According to the documents, the Internet giant’s webcam is “known to be used by [Government Communications Headquarters] targets.” GCHQ is the British equivalent of the NSA.
Despite the potential for terrorists to use webcams to communicate, a document described as from the mid-2000s concedes, “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips, and family home movies.”
Another classified report explains further the limitations of Optic Nerve:
“Unfortunately “¦ it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. 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.”
Between 3 and 11 percent of the webcam images collected are estimated to contain “undesirable nudity.”
It is not clear exactly what level of access the NSA had to the database of images, though information was transferred to the agency’s XKeyscore search tool.
In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said the report “raises troubling questions” about the NSA’s involvement in Optic Nerve.
“We need to know more about what the NSA knew, and what role it played,” Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney, said.
What We're Following See More »
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."
Conrad Burns, the colorful livestock auctioneer and radio executive from Montana who served three terms as a senator, died on Thursday at age 81. Burns "was ousted from office in 2006 under the specter of scandal after developing close ties to "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff," although no charges were ever filed.
In an exchange not ripped from the page of The Onion, Vice President Biden revealed to a Vatican cardinal that he's been betting reporters on which cars are faster. After meeting privately with Pope Francis, Biden met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State. Within moments of greeting one another, Biden said that he'd met with the pope and, gesturing to the press pool, "I've met with these guys too." Singling out reporter Gardiner Harris, who recounted the exchange, he said, "I had to pay this man $10. He's from the New York Times. We had a bet: which is the faster car, the newer Cadillac or the new [Tesla]. ... The Tesla's two tenths of a second faster. But I lost. I paid my $10." He joked that he's "seeking absolution."
Donald Trump held his first rally in California Thursday night, and things were chaotic: "Hundreds of demonstrators filled the street outside the Orange County amphitheater where ... stomping on cars, hurling rocks at motorists and forcefully declaring their opposition to the Republican presidential candidate. Traffic came to a halt as a boisterous crowd walked in the roadway, some waving American and Mexican flags. Protesters smashed a window on at least one police cruiser, punctured the tires of a police sport utility vehicle, and at one point tried to flip a police car."