Watch Those Webcam Images…You’re Being Watched

webcam-lockThink about what you do in the comfort of your home. Now think about any conversation that you had over a webcam. Whether you were doing anything inappropriate or not, what if the government has a copy of the images taken from those webcam chats that you were in? Big Brother may be watching more than you think.

What’s Going On

GCHQ, the spy agency for Great Britain as well as the NSA, the US National Security Agency, have intercepted stored images from webcams of millions of online users. Former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, revealed that the Optic Nerve program collects still images of chats from webcams, regardless of whether a user is a suspect or not.

Many believe that this information represents an entirely new level of user privacy violations that are unacceptable. Yahoo is concerned with preserving user trust and security and they plan on expanding encryption across all of their services.

According to the information that was leaked from the GCHQ, the documents were used from 2008 to 2010 for the purpose of automated facial recognition. However, some reports show that the program was still active throughout 2012. The program supposedly saved a single image every five minutes from a user’s webcam feed in order to comply with human rights legislation as well as to cut down on the overall amount of data that was being collected.

The data that was collected from GCHQ was shared with NSA through routine information sharing. NSA analysts have said that a significant amount of the data was sexual in nature. One document was reported as talking about the sheer number of webcam conversations that are held where people show intimate body parts to others.

Are Civil Liberties Being Taken?

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is a research center in Washington DC that focuses on protecting privacy and the First Amendment. They are constantly working on various reports and books about the open government and privacy that has to do with civil liberties.

As more news about what governments are doing with information on the Internet, such groups as EPIC are more important to ensure that people are able to lead private lives without fear of what the government is finding out about, especially when there is no reason for a person’s private life to be pried into.

It is suggested that the GCHQ obtained more than 1.8 million images from webcams of Yahoo users in a six-month period in 2008. The majority of the user accounts were ordinary people, not people of interest or suspects of a particular crime. Yahoo was chosen primarily because of GCHQ targets using the webcam systems.

Yahoo reported that they were not aware of such activity nor would they condone it. This comment was submitted to the press via email.

The GCHQ says that all of their work has been carried out with being in accordance to the policy framework and that their activities were not only authorized but also necessary.

If such activities are legal and necessary, people may want to think twice about what they do on a webcam since it seems that Big Brother is not only watching but collecting images as well.

+Katrina Matthews is a tech expert and blogger for RackSolutions, manufacturer of custom racking products, from 6u to 42u server racks and larger.  She gives helpful tech advice here every week on our blog.