The US National Security Agency has pulled off some pretty brazen acts of surveillance. But the latest news of outrageously invasive spying by British intelligence makes the other Edward Snowden-NSA revelations look like piffle, codswollop and poppycock. According the latest Snowden leak published in Thursday"s Guardian, British intelligence has been hacking into and saving images of your Yahoo video chat sessions for years -- even if you have never been suspected of a crime.
The immediate question on any Yahoo chat user"s mind is, "Do they have our dirty pictures?!" Yes, I am afraid they do. Guardian authors Spencer Ackerman and James Ball write, "In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally."
The details are harrowing in The Guardian"s report. The spying is not restricted to British citizens -- using a program called Optic Nerve, the UK"s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) collected and saved images from any Yahoo video chat user they wanted.
This is all news to Yahoo, who are reportedly up in arms over the revelation. A Yahoo representative told The Guardian this represented "a whole new level of violation of our users" privacy."
This may be the most disturbing single identifiable revelation from the Snowden NSA document dump, because it confirms our worst nightmare. Intelligence agencies are bulk-collecting private images and data of citizens who have committed no crimes and have no connection whatsoever to terrorism or national security matters.
Yes, GCHQ kept the pictures and used facial recognition technology to identify who was in the images. "[T]here are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans" images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant," The Guardian notes.
And oh boy, did they get a treasure trove of our dirty and explicit sexual chat sessions. In hilariously British fashion, the leaked GCHQ documents note that "it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person ... it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
In fact, GCHQ estimated that up to 11 percent of the images they collected from users were sexually explicit. And they may still have all these images on their servers.
As with many of the Snowden revelations, we don"t know if the intelligence agencies are still engaging in this practice. The report notes that this form of surveillance has been practiced at least as recently as 2012.
The US National Security Agency refused to comment on whether they"re doing the same themselves. Considering that the NSA provided some of the tools, it"s a good bet that they are.