Yahoo webcam spying: When Big Brother morphs into Peeping Tom

The National Security Agency's data center in Bluffdale, Utah.
The National Security Agency’s data center in Bluffdale, Utah.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Forget Big Brother. What we have to fear now is Peeping Tom. One of Britain’s intelligence services, with help from the U.S. National Security Agency, reportedly collected and stored millions of images from people’s Yahoo webcam chats.

The Guardian newspaper, continuing to mine the Edward Snowden mother lode of purloined NSA documents, broke the news Thursday about the British spy agency GCHQ’s “Optic Nerve” program. It reported:

“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.”


Or, as President Obama might say: “Just keeping the world safe from naked, sex-crazed terrorists; nothing else to see here; move along.”

Or, as some working stiff at the GCHQ /NSA might say: “Hubba hubba, isn’t that my neighbor in 4B?”

Forget slippery slopes; we’re way over into the deep end of the spying (cess)pool now. After all, ordinary citizens who do this sort of thing find themselves touched by the long arm of the law.

As Zack Whittaker and Charlie Osborne wrote Thursday on ZDNet:

“Does Hunter Moore ring any bells?

“Moore has been branded by many ‘the most hated man on the Internet’ for running the revenge porn website, where intimate images of former partners were posted without consent by those seeking revenge. Not only were images posted, but also names, locations and links to social media accounts were often included.

“While some images were submitted by users, Moore was later arrested and charged with the theft of images from hacked email accounts; and a 15-count federal indictment accused him of conspiracy, computer hacking, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting.

“The punishment? Up to five years in federal prison.”


Is what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for federal prosecutors (or whatever they have in Britain) to take Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron out for a perp walk.

Maybe it’s just me, but this is getting creepy. Tracking phone calls and emails and the like is one thing; checking folks out in their birthday suits (or whatever) is just — for lack of a better word — obscene.

Of course, it’s not like we shouldn’t have seen this coming. Folks everywhere have taken breathtaking technological advances such as the Internet, computers, webcams, cellphones and the like and used them to do really stupid things. That picture of you and your bros at the frat party? Bad idea. The snaps from the ladies-only weekend in Vegas? Shouldn’t have gone there.

But people being stupid is one thing; governments being stupid is a whole other level.


Yes, I want to be safe from terrorists.

But right now, the naked truth is, I’m feeling a whole lot more threatened by government spooks.


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Why are U.S. taxpayers funding homophobia in Uganda?Follow Paul Whitefield on Twitter @PaulWhitefield1 and Google +