Startled by Porn

The Five Eyes is the name by which the security agencies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are collectively known. The vegetable soup of organizations (ASD, ASIS, DIO, CDIS, CSEC, CSIS, DDIS, GCSB, NZSIS, DI, GCHG, MI5, MI6, CIA, DIA, FNI, NSA) shares intelligence, or at least gathers information from around the world. Most of us really only became of the evasiveness last year when Edward Snowden leaked the classified files from the NSA.

Sometimes, the spy game can be a bit of a farce, as the Guardian UK reports. Apparently, the UK and US spies were shocked, shocked I tell you, by the amount of explicit images on Yahoo Chat.

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.

Of course, there is a considerable amount of sex happening on chats, and this became an issue.

The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”

Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem forGCHQ, 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. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows 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.”

There it is. Pornography on the internet. Although, is it porn if it’s not meant for public consumption? Was it actually porn before it was viewed by the agents?

The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”. Discussing efforts to make the interface “safer to use”, it noted that current “naïve” pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people’s faces as pornography.

Yahoo was not impressed, but there is no need for any of us to worry, it’s all above board.

In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

“Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

“All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

I don’t think they have any pictures of my penis or hairy ass from those years, but you just never know. If there are, I hope the spies are still enjoying them.

 

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