The data collection occurred between 2008 – 2012, as part of an operation known as Optic Nerve. An experimental program, the GCHQ hoped to create a facial recognition software to track targets online. In the process, it collected images from completely unrelated users in the US and UK, primarily citizens with no connection to terror activities.
In the documents, it shows the efforts of the GCHQ to keep their staff from seeing the many sexually explicit images that were part of those collected images. However, the idea that they were conducting these sweeps in the first place is a whole new level of disturbing in an already terrifying case of government overreach.
Not only were they able to collect images from certain users without evidence of wrong doing, but they could target users with similar user names and other potential connections, usually arbitrary.
A spokesperson for Yahoo vehemently condemned the actions of the agency.
“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.”
This is yet another bit of proof of the lack of safety on the web. Up to 11% of the images saved are supposed to have what the agency termed “undesirable nudity”. Just imagine for a second some random agents watching your online sexual activities that were meant to be private between you and the person whom you were speaking. What else have their collected? Voice conversations?
I have always put a bit of tape over my webcam, and I am always careful of what I do over the web using that technology. I have a friend who has always told me I am paranoid. But this would seem to indicate otherwise, and the truth is that nothing we do on the web, through our phones, on consoles, or using any other type of technology is truly safe from outside viewing.
But seeing the scope of all of this, just continuing to grow into ever more horrifying scenarios, it is easy to feel helpless. If I were you, I would invest in some duct tape.