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Hullabaloo


Thursday, February 27, 2014

 
That "special" relationship

by digby

I hope you and your honey weren't flashing a bit of skin over your webcam recently because it's been preserved for a bunch of bureaucrats to "research" and "analyze" if they think they might need to. Our good friends across the pond are looking at your nibbles and bits.

Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

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.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".

GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans' images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ's sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

Well that's good. I'm awfully glad they try to keep it away from the staff. What could possibly go wrong?

It should be clear to anyone by now that there is no good reason to store all the stuff they're storing. They can't even point to a good reason. They are doing it because they can.

What this changes is the idea that the act of ephemeral, private communications must now go back to a far more primitive time when the only way you could have an ephemeral, private communication was to speak in person. The fact that they are storing your private calls and messages basically renders everything the internet and your telephone is used for a potentially incriminating piece of documentation for the government to use if it wants to build a case against you. And that doesn't even take into account the massive threat it poses to individuals from private parties who may find ways to access this information. Maybe you trust the government. What about cyber-criminals? Do you trust that the government will be able to guard this information? They haven't been particularly good at it so far --- Chelsea Manning accessed it and snuck it out on a Lady Gaga CD.

Do you want your face (much less your T&A) in a "mug book" to be used by law enforcement based upon truly primitive facial recognition technology?

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users' feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ's servers. The documents describe these users as "unselected" – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.

One document even likened the program's "bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events" to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

"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," it reads. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts' ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.

However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".

(If you think that's cool, remind yourself of this little error. I)

It is, quite simply, too dangerous to our civil liberties and our personal privacy for these records to be stored at all. Governments functioned quite well having to build cases based upon suspicion. They should have no problem being able to get warrants for specific people or groups of people. It's how it's always worked before.

Read the whole thing. It would be laughable if it weren't so appalling. We've officially graduated to farce.




*Oh, and if you think the NSA isn't intimately involved in this --- and likely farmed it out to GCHQ because of their more lax legal system --- you must have recently taken a trip to Colorado and bought some of that really good Mountain High.


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