NSA, USA’s Surveillance Agency is now helping UK’s Surveillance Agency GCHQ in intercepting and storing the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, revealed secret documents obtained by The Guardian. The project called Optic Nerve, started as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012.
“Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,” it reads. “The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”
The report also revealed that lots of sexually explicit content was also collected and GCHQ struggled to keep it away from the eyes of its staff.
Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “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.”
Another interesting news is that the GCHQ was planning to use Microsoft Kinect too for this program.
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.
Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.
Microsoft on its part, provided the following statement.
Microsoft has never heard of this program. However, we’re concerned about any reports of governments surreptitiously collecting private customer data. That’s why in December we initiated a broad effort to expand encryption across our services and are advocating for legal reforms.
We’re not aware of any surveillance activity. If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn’t done with our consent.