London, England, United Kingdom (4E) – UK’s intelligence agency intercepted, collected and stored images from Yahoo webcam chats during a six-month period in 2008, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Thursday.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) tapped fiber-optic cables lines between Yahoo’s data centers around the world to collect the images from 1.8 million Yahoo users and store them in its servers until 2010, the report said citing documents leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden as source.
Under Optic Nerve, one image from users’ feeds is saved every five minutes. GCHQ analysts search images by the sender and receiver’s usernames, file types, time, date and duration of their webcam chat. The analysts view the image when the metadata matches those of surveillance targets.
GCHQ said its operation is “in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.”
Yahoo issued a statement Thursday denying it was aware of the GCHQ surveillance operation dubbed Optic Nerve. It accused GCHQ of violating privacy; many of the images were sexually explicit as users showed intimate body parts to users they were chatting with.
Yahoo said it continues to expand encryption across all of its services as a commitment to preserving users’ trust and security. Yahoo has said that all of its services will be encrypted by end of next month.
The Guardian report also mentioned that GCHQ was interested in using Microsoft’s Xbox 360′s Kinect camera for spying. The software company said it was unaware of such attempt.