February 27, 2014
GCHQ operated a secret surveillance project called Optic Nerve which captured images from millions of Yahoo! webcam chats made between people suspected of no crime. Leaked documents dated from 2008 to 2010 reveal that Yahoo! was chosen because it was known to be used by “GCHQ targets”. The NSA was also involved, providing software to identify video traffic online and make screenshots searchable once intercepted. The images were collected from 1.8 million Yahoo! accounts around the world to conduct experiments in facial recognition and to detect criminals or terror suspects who were using multiple accounts to hold webcam chats. The Guardian, which has access to the leaked documents supplied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reports that one image was taken every five minutes, partly to satisfy human rights legislation and partly to avoid being overwhelmed with huge swathes of data. The documents say that the victims of the intrusion were “unselected”, which is a term used to describe randomly selected individuals rather than those suspected of wrongdoing.
The newspaper reports that one document says: “Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face. The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.” Agents were reportedly not able to trawl the images at random but could search for images from users with similar account names to known suspects. The documents were taken from GCHQ’s internal wiki and say that the project was currently closed but “shortly to return!” Files reveal that GCHQ inadvertently intercepted pornographic images with the project: “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.”
Source = The Guardian
February 27, 2014
British spies filmed millions of people through their webcams using a program likened to the surveillance system in George Orwell’s 1984, according to leaked secret documents. The surveillance agency GCHQ used a hacking program codenamed Optic Nerve to view British citizens in their homes as they used the Yahoo! webcam chat system, the classified files revealed by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and published by The Guardian show. Up to 11 per cent of the images contained what agents called “undesirable nudity”, according to the documents. It is unclear exactly how much information was obtained using Optic Nerve. However, in six months in 2008, images were obtained from more than 1.8 million Yahoo! user accounts around the world. Civil liberty campaigners expressed horror at the scale of the surveillance of people who were not suspected of a crime. Yahoo!, which said it had not been aware of the surveillance, said the revelations represented “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy”.
The documents show the legal status of the system was discussed, particularly in relation to using automated facial matching to identify the people in the pictures. “It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst,” one document from 2008 reads. Nick Pickles, the director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said Orwell’s 1984 was “supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual”. “Secretly intercepting and taking photographs from millions of people’s webcam chats is as creepy as it gets,” he said. Conservative MP David Davis, who has campaigned on civil liberties issues, said: “It is perfectly proper for our intelligence agencies to use any and all means to target people for whom there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of terrorism. It is entirely improper to extend such intrusive surveillance on a blanket scale to ordinary citizens.” A GCHQ spokeswoman said: “We’re not commenting on anything.”
Source = The Independent
February 27, 2014
Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, aided by the National Security Agency, has intercepted and stored the webcam images from millions of Yahoo chats by users who were not being targeted for any wrongdoing, The Guardian reports, quoting from secret documents. The British newspaper says GCHQ files dated from 2008 to 2010 show that a program codenamed Optic Nerve collected the still images in bulk and stored them in databases. The report about Optic Nerve is based on documents provided by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who has received political asylum in Russia. Yahoo “reacted furiously” to the reported interceptions when approached by the newspaper, The Guardian said. It said the company denied any prior knowledge of the program and accused the surveillance agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.”
The article, written by Guardian reporters Spencer Ackerman and James Ball, says these images were stored regardless of whether the users were being targeted by intelligence services. The Guardian said the British surveillance agency collected images from more than 1.8 user accounts globally in 2008 alone. One secret document estimated that 3% to 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery snared by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity.” The newspaper said that documents provided by Snowden show that Optic Nerve began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012. Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because “Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets,” according to the report.
Source = USA Today
February 27, 2014
(Reuters) – Britain’s spy agency GCHQ intercepted millions of people’s webcam chats and stored still images of them, including sexually explicit ones, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday. GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 provided to the newspaper by the former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, revealed that the surveillance program, codenamed Optic Nerve, saved one image every five minutes from randomly selected Yahoo webcam chats and stored them on agency databases. Optic Nerve, which began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, was intended to test automated facial recognition, monitor GCHQ’s targets and uncover new ones, the Guardian said.
Under British law, there are no restrictions preventing images of U.S. citizens being accessed by British intelligence, it added. GCHQ collected images from the webcam chats of over 1.8 million users globally in a six-month period in 2008 alone. “It is a long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” a GCHQ spokesperson said on Thursday. In another sign of the widespread information-sharing between U.S. and UK spy agencies which has riled public and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, the webcam information was fed into the NSA’s search tool and all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts, the paper said.
However it was not clear whether the NSA had access to the actual database of Yahoo webcam images, it added. Snowden, now in Russia after fleeing the United States, made world headlines last summer when he provided details of NSA surveillance programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post. For decades, the NSA and GCHQ have worked as close partners, sharing intelligence under an arrangement known as the UKUSA agreement. They also collaborate with eavesdropping agencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand under an arrangement known as the “Five Eyes” alliance. Under Optic Nerve, GCHQ tried to limit its staff’s ability to see the webcam images, but they could still see the images of people with similar usernames to intelligence targets, the Guardian said.
Source = Reuters
January 16, 2014
Across the Atlantic, the waves stirred by revelations about the extent of NSA spying have reached the president’s door. On Friday, Barack Obama will lay out how he plans to reform the US intelligence agency, including changes to the NSA’s mass collection of American’s telephone data and the reining in of its surveillance of foreign leaders. But documents published by former CIA contract worker Edward Snowden also highlighted the far-reaching surveillance undertaken by Britain’s own intelligence agency, GCHQ.
According to the leaks, GCHQ has been monitoring secret fibre-optic cables that carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic – and sharing the data with its American counterpart. GCHQ also spied on foreign allies’ phones and computers at the G20 summit in 2009, according to the leaks, and had unlimited access to customers’ phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries stored by British telecoms companies, including BT and Vodafone. The secretive intelligence agency, whose very existence was not officially acknowledged until 1983, is answerable to Foreign Secretary William Hague, and the intelligence and security committee (ISC) chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Source = Channel Four News
New Snowden Doc Reveals How GCHQ/NSA Use The Internet To ‘Manipulate, Deceive And Destroy Reputations’
February 25, 2014
A few weeks ago, Glenn Greenwald, while working with NBC News, revealed some details of a GCHQ presentation concerning how the surveillance organization had a “dirty tricks” group known as JTRIG — the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group. Now, over at The Intercept, he’s revealed the entire presentation and highlighted more details about how JTRIG would seek to infiltrate different groups online and destroy people’s reputations — going way, way, way beyond just targeting terrorist groups and threats to national security.
Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.
For years, people have said that the purpose of groups like the NSA and GCHQ were merely “signals intelligence,” which were about understanding and decoding signals, not about taking any sort of offensive standpoint. However, as the Snowden docs have repeatedly revealed, the mandate of these organizations has long been much more offensively based, and they seem to have little problem with using questionable tactics to destroy people’s lives. As Greenwald notes, is this really a power you trust a totally secretive government agency with almost no real oversight to use without it being abused?
There’s a lot more in Greenwald’s writeup, which you should read, but just a few of the key slides are worth reading to get a sense of what’s going on here. This isn’t just about infiltrating terrorist organizations. They seem to be using these kinds of techniques on just about anyone they dislike, which harkens back to the Hoover-era FBI infiltrating and seeking to discredit anti-war groups. It also raises very serious questions about whether these efforts are being used to stifle political expression.
Source = Tech Dirt