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Yahoo blasted the claims which originated in documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a "whole new level of violation".
The leaked document, unearthed by The Guardian newspaper, said: "Unfortunately...
Optic Nerve is a mass surveillance program run by the British signals intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), with help from the US National Security Agency, that surreptitiously collects private webcam still images from users while they are using a Yahoo! As an example of the scale, in one 6-month period, the program is reported to have collected images from 1.8 million Yahoo! The program was first reported on in the media in February 2014, from documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, but dates back to a prototype started in 2008, and was still active in at least 2012.
The leaked documents describe the users under surveillance as "unselected", meaning that data was collected indiscriminately in bulk from users regardless of whether they were an intelligence target or not.
If you used Yahoo Messenger to video chat with your friends or strangers between 20 — and perhaps even later — British spies might have a collection of screenshots of your most intimate online conversations.
The GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA, has been caught collecting screenshots of millions of Yahoo users from their webcams through a program called "Optic Nerve," according to the latest Edward Snowden leak, published on Thursday.
Between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery stored by the Cheltenham-based listening post contain "undesirable nudity", the previously top-secret documents reveal.
doesn't provide much in the way of technical details, and the original documents the report is based on have not been released.
"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." Codenamed Optic Nerve, the operation saved images to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were suspected of wrongdoing, The Guardian said.
Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users' feeds, the newspaper added.
Though there were some limits to which photos security analysts were allowed to see, with bulk searches limited to metadata, security analysts were allowed to see "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".
Optic Nerve worked by collecting the information from GCHQ's large network of Internet cable taps, feeding into systems provided by the United States' National Security Agency.
As of this writing, it remains unclear as to just how many Yahoo users were simultaneously tracked by the GCHQ's five-minute interval screenshot method.