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The PJ Tatler

by
Bryan Preston

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February 27, 2014 - 2:25 pm

Take a roll of electrical tape. Cut out a little square. Place it over the webcam on your computer. Right now.

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.

This is another Snowden disclosure, which tells us a couple of things. Namely, that because Snowden is holed up in Russia, the Russians already knew about this, and they have probably used Snowden’s files to replicate it — if they weren’t already doing something similar themselves. With no Snowden counterpart in Russia to blow the whistle on Putin, we’ll never know. The actual Snowden ran from one surveillance state to a worse surveillance state.

This particular photo gathering was going on via Yahoo chat, but there’s no reason to believe that it’s limited to Yahoo chat or that there isn’t another program out there that targets other chat programs. There’s no reason to believe that intel isn’t tapping Skype and other feeds, maybe even Facetime. Hackers have already been caught tapping into webcams that weren’t even being used.

Anyway, I suppose it’s some level of justice that the spies had to pay a price for their surveillance.

Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person.”

The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”.

This was probably like a nude beach, full of things you’d rather not see, while the people you’d want to see naked are clothed, and elsewhere.

Update: This post needs a song.

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Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

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Top Rated Comments   
Desirable nudity was probably close to 90 %.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
What the hell did they expect? That they were going to get pictures of people sitting around kitchen tables assembling bombs?
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (21)
All Comments   (21)
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Go ahead and post those of me. I double-dog dare you!
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I never had a webcam before, but my newish laptop came with a webcam installed.

I covered it with duct tape. Problem solved.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Syrians are torturing their opponents by forcing them to watch Barney Frank and Harry Reed webcam downloads.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is why I don't use webcams of any kind. And never will.

The larger problem is that this is going on though. Are you DimocRats and Leftists just going to let them get away with this because "your guy" happens to be the one occupying the White House? He won't be there forever.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is not surprising is it?
2 years ago a school principle was charged (I am not sure of the outcome) of remotely turning on the camera's to school issued laptops the kids could take home.
Your phone's microphone and camera can be turned on remotely as well as your every move tracked by GPS. The only way to stop it is to take the battery out of the phone.
At this point any logical person has to know that the US government (and more to come) can collect, and store every byte of data (digital or analog) of the entire world - and store it in UTAH for 100 years!!!
It does not matter if you are connected to the web or not.
Much of your clothing, furniture, toys, appliances, and ALL electronic devices have RF tags in them. When you match those to the credit card that bought them (which the government stores all credit card data also) BAM!!! You know all there is to know about anyone.
Allegedly the government is not allowed to link the info together - RIIIIIGHT!! And the NSA hasn't already lied about its operations 3 times already.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
i don't have a webcam. if I did, i'd place it in front of a tv that constantly played zither music.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, if they got to see my wrinkly rear end... that should teach them! Ha!
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Or kill them......

29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
No need for the tape. Just don't use it. This is not about them cracking into your computer and activating the webcam to watch you.

29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't remember the source, but fairly recently I read or heard that it the government can check you out through a Web camera. Nonsense or possible?
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
In order to operate your web cam, either you have to decide to use it, or someone has to surreptitiously install some software that will allow them to do that remotely.

If the government has enough interest in YOU in particular to do that, I'm quite sure they will manage to do it.

On the other hand, to do that to any significant quantities of random citizens would be a MASSIVE effort, and then to monitor those web cams would be an even MORE massive effort. The data requirements are staggering.

Also, the chances of them doing that and NOT getting caught are slim to none. There are just way too many nerds out there who know what is going into and coming out of their computers.

Follow basic safe computing practices and you really don't have anything to worry about.

Of course, most people don't. ;-)



29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is certainly possible in principle, and has been alleged. (There was a case a couple of years ago of a school district using the cameras in school-issued laptops to spy on students at home.)

This particular story isn't about turning on your camera without your knowledge, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Those school-issued laptops had software installed by the school to enable them to do just what they did.

29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA, was blackmailed because a hacker turned on her webcam remotely.

Now, he was a classmate, so he probably had a moment with her laptop during school to install software. I haven't read how he did it, just that he was convicted.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Social engineering is still the #1 method for cracking a computer. That basically means, tricking the owner into giving you the password, figuring it out based on some knowledge of the victim (Hmmm, let's see if she used her cat's name for the password.. Ha, got it!), or finding it written on a Post-It note stuck to the screen.

I'm not saying it's IMPOSSIBLE for the gummit to do this, just that it's really not easy, and is almost certainly NOT being done on any mass scale.

It's also a search, and requires a warrant. We have not gotten to the point where such intrusive behavior is allowed without a warrant.

Yet.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Good thing I never got around to getting a web cam. Procrastination wins again!
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”. SNIP

What percentage was of desirable nudity?
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Desirable nudity? It's a pretty simple math problem: 100%- (3% to 11%) = 89% to 97% desirable. You may deduct any amount of webcam traffic you imagine as not having nudity at all. I'd place it somewhere around 0.05%.

Ugly people don't have as many folks willing to watch so there isn't as much undesirable nudity as you'd fear.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Desirable nudity was probably close to 90 %.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
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