optic nerve

Edward Snowden’s bag of treats, rather repository of damning classified documents, brings another electronic spying scandal to light. Britain’s GCHQ, Her Majesty’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, has reportedly been involved in collecting still images of Yahoo webcam chats “in bulk,” reports The Guardian which has received said documents from Snowden. The program was called Optic Nerve was ran through 2008-2010. Images collected were saved to the agency’s databases, they were collected regardless of the possibility that users were possible intelligence targets or not. Oh, and the NSA helped them.

The report reveals that a substantial quantity of images collected were sexually explicit. Optic Nerve apparently saved one image every five minutes from live feeds, “partly to comply with human rights legislation,” but even more so to stop the GCHQ’s servers from overloading. Its unclear how many people had access to the database, but apparently analysts were limited to running bulk searches on metadata only.

Yahoo, quite obviously, is furious about these new revelations. The company tells the scribe that it had no prior knowledge of Optic Nerve and that it constitutes a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.” Optic Nerve is believed to have been a prototype in 2008, and its quite possible that it may have been running as far along as 2012. On the other hand, GCHQ holds the view that all of its activities are in accordance with UK law and that they happen to be necessary and proportionate.

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