NSA May Not Voyeuristically Pore Through Email But GCHQ Voyeuristically Pores Through WebCam Pictures

Back in James Clapper’s very first attempt to dismiss his lies to Ron Wyden, he said,

“What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that,” Clapper told National Journal in a telephone interview.

Apparently, however, NSA’s partner goes one step beyond that, with NSA”s assistance: GCHQ pores through bulk collected webcam photos, including those of US persons, of Yahoo’s users.

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the 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.

This includes the 3 to 11% of images that show nudity.

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.”

The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”.

Given past discussions of circumcision in regards to terrorist suspects, it’s only a matter of time before GCHQ defends its nudity stash because such evidence can be proof of radicalization (heh). Plus, we already know that NSA and GCHQ like to use targets’ online porn habits to discredit them.

Coming soon to an “oversight” hearing near you: James Clapper refuses to talk about this invasion of an American company’s customers’ privacy because it occurs under EO 12333 and liaison partnerships, and therefore is not subject to Congressional oversight.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Obviously they need this supplemental data to dump in the haystack with the crotch shots they’re taking at airport security…

  2. jerryy says:

    Does this mean the FBI is going to be arresting and investigating the NSA and GCHQ operatives for collecting child porn? It sounds like they already have the necessary confessions… Hmmm, maybe that is why Eric Holder suddenly checked into a hospital with those symptoms of dizziness and shortness of breath.

  3. Nigel says:

    The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”.

    Which implies a percentage of imagery containing desirable nudity ?

  4. Dead Last says:

    Please tell me that the TSA really does delete the Rape-Scan images at the airport! I am certain that the NSA would never want those images…

    *snark*

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