- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2014

The British agency that heads up the country’s government surveillance has captured still images from hundreds of Yahoo webcam chats from between 2008 and 2010 — some of which included the images of naked users.

The Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, launched a surveillance program — code-named Optic Nerve — aimed at scouring more than 1.8 million Yahoo chats around the world, including those of users that weren’t directly suspected of terrorist activities, the Guardian reported.

The United States’ National Security Agency assisted the GCHQ with the program, which came to light in documents turned over to the Guardian by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

GCHQ suspected some of the Yahoo chatters had ties to terrorism, so agents started taking stills — a shot every five minutes — of webcam users with names that seemed similar to the intelligence agency’s targets, the Guardian reported. But in the process, the agency swept up thousands of other images from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and other countries.

Up to 11 percent of the webcam stills collected by the agency contained nudity, the Guardian reported.

“It would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one document from the program revealed. “Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows for 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.”

GCHQ didn’t do much to try and filter out the nude photos, the Guardian reported.

Yahoo vehemently denied having any knowledge of the program.

“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,” the company said in a statement to the Guardian.