UK Spy Agency Surprised Most People Use Webcam for Sex

Webcam

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ was surprised to learn that most people use webcams for sex after they intercepted millions of private Yahoo users’ webcams. GCHQ, which declined to go into detail about the operation, did comment and say that “unfortunately… a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person.” This is the latest front in the “War on Terror.”

While the shocking revelation may stun those in the intelligence community, for the rest of us it seems more like an ironic twist on a surveillance program gone awry. We may chuckle at this implausible scenario, but officials at Yahoo say this is no laughing matter. They claim they had no prior knowledge of the surveillance program and that it is a “completely unacceptable” violation of privacy.

The evidence which exposed the interception originally came from documents leaked by American-in-exile Edward Snowden, along with thousands of other documents that have yet to be released by a British news source. Snowden, who is residing in Russia on a temporary visa, is said to be continuing his support for the leaks he supplied to a British news source.

Of course, British spy officials say it was not their intention to gather and store sexually explicit content, but nonetheless, that is what happened. Officials say the large number of people performing sexual acts over the webcams is due to Yahoo’s software. The software allows more than one user to view any single person’s webcam without them having to reply with a video of their own, making it the ideal format to broadcast pornography.

GCHQ claims it has a strict policy on the collection of sexually explicit material, and that it will be handled appropriately. As of now, their software cannot “distinguish” the difference between pornographic images and other images. In the meantime, officials will be working to sort out the monitoring software. The fact most people use webcams for sex surprises the UK spy agency.

Other reports from privacy watchdog groups say this is a seriously troubling phenomenon, with governments and spy agencies around the world capable of tapping into the private webcams of everyday citizens. Such a tool poses a serious invasion of privacy, say observers, and more should be done to firewall illegal seizures of webcam images and videos from private users.

GCHQ, which began collecting the data in 2008 and continued until 2012, was aided by the National Security Agency (NSA) through an operation called Optic Nerve. The files which were sent into the NSA’s “search tool” allowed the NSA to keyword individuals based on facial recognition. Up to two million images were collected by the surveillance program, a majority of which showed more skin than officials probably cared to see. Officials say they are not sure whether the spy agency has direct access to Yahoo’s database of stored webcam images.

It is no secret that UK and US agencies work closely together in intelligence gathering. Officials in the two agencies probably never considered how closely they would work, analyzing the dossier of mostly sexually explicit content from the webcams of millions of Yahoo users, which surprised the UK spy agency.

Commentary by John Amaruso
Sources:
BBC
Washington Post
Reuters

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