Optic Nerve: millions of Yahoo webcam images intercepted by GCHQ

Optic Nerve is a mass surveillance programme run by the British signals intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), with help from the US National Security Agency, that surreptitiously collects private webcam still images from users while they are using a Yahoo! webcam application. As an example of the scale, in one 6-month period, the programme is reported to have collected images from 1.8 million Yahoo! user accounts globally. The programme was first reported on in the media in February 2014, from documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, but dates back to a prototype started in 2008, and was still active in at least 2012.[1][2]

The leaked documents describe the users under surveillance as “unselected”, meaning that data was collected indiscriminately in bulk from users regardless of whether they were an intelligence target or not. The vast majority of affected users would have been completely innocent of any crime or suspicion of a crime.

GCHQ mass surveillance violated human rights, court rules

GCHQ’s methods in carrying out bulk interception of online communications violated privacy and failed to provide sufficient surveillance safeguards, the European court of human rights (ECHR) has ruled in a test case judgment.

But the court found that GCHQ’s regime for sharing sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal.

It is the first major challenge to the legality of UK intelligence agencies intercepting private communications in bulk, following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing revelations. The long-awaited ruling is one of the most comprehensive assessments by the ECHR of the legality of the interception operations operated by UK intelligence agencies.

The case was brought by a coalition of 14 human rights groups, privacy organisations and journalists, including Amnesty International, Liberty, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch. In a statement, published on Amnesty’s website, Lucy Claridge, Amnesty International’s Strategic Litigation Director, said, today’s ruling “represents a significant step forward in the protection of privacy and freedom of expression worldwide. It sends a strong message to the UK Government that its use of extensive surveillance powers is abusive and runs against the very principles that it claims to be defending.” He added: “This is particularly important because of the threat that Government surveillance poses to those who work in human rights and investigative journalism, people who often risk their own lives to speak out. Three years ago, this same case forced the UK Government to admit GCHQ had been spying on Amnesty — a clear sign that our work and the people we work alongside had been put at risk.”

The judges considered three aspects of digital surveillance: bulk interception of communications, intelligence sharing and obtaining of communications data from communications service providers. By a majority of five to two votes, the Strasbourg judges found that GCHQ’s bulk interception regime violated article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees privacy, because there were said to be insufficient safeguards, and rules governing the selection of “related communications data” were deemed to be inadequate.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

UK security agencies unlawfully collected data for 17 years, court rules

No prosecutions. Instead, those in power are pushing to pass a law to legitimise and continue the same.

“British security agencies have secretly and unlawfully collected massive volumes of confidential personal data, including financial information, on citizens for more than a decade, senior judges have ruled.

The investigatory powers tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, said the security services operated an illegal regime to collect vast amounts of communications data, tracking individual phone and web use and other confidential personal information, without adequate safeguards or supervision for 17 years.

Privacy campaigners described the ruling as “one of the most significant indictments of the secret use of the government’s mass surveillance powers” since Edward Snowden first began exposing the extent of British and American state digital surveillance of citizens in 2013.

The tribunal said the regime governing the collection of bulk communications data (BCD) – the who, where, when and what of personal phone and web communications – failed to comply with article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR) between 1998, when it started, and 4 November 2015, when it was made public.

It added that the retention of of bulk personal datasets (BPD) – which might include medical and tax records, individual biographical details, commercial and financial activities, communications and travel data – also failed to comply with article 8 for the decade it was in operation until it was publicly acknowledged in March 2015.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

New leaked files reveal more about NSA satellite eavesdropping

Newly published documents have shed more light on the dubious surveillance operations of the United States operating in the UK. The documents detail how the NSA and GCHQ used information gathered by Menwith Hill Station—a massive but tightly sealed facility that intercepts satellite data transmissions worldwide—for targeted killings with drones:

“The files reveal for the first time how the NSA has used the British base to aid “a significant number of capture-kill operations” across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by powerful eavesdropping technology that can harvest data from more than 300 million emails and phone calls a day.

The NSA has pioneered groundbreaking new spying programs at Menwith Hill to pinpoint the locations of suspected terrorists accessing the internet in remote parts of the world. The programs — with names such as GHOSTHUNTER and GHOSTWOLF — have provided support for conventional British and American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they have also aided covert missions in countries where the U.S. has not declared war. NSA employees at Menwith Hill have collaborated on a project to help “eliminate” terrorism targets in Yemen, for example, where the U.S. has waged a controversial drone bombing campaign that has resulted in dozens of civilian deaths.

The disclosures about Menwith Hill raise new questions about the extent of British complicity in U.S. drone strikes and other so-called targeted killing missions, which may in some cases have violated international laws or constituted war crimes.

Successive U.K. governments have publicly stated that all activities at the base are carried out with the “full knowledge and consent” of British officials.”

UK Spook Agencies Have Been Spying on Millions of People ‘Of No Security Interest’ Since 1990s

UK’s intelligence agencies such as MI5, MI6, and GCHQ have been collecting personal information from citizens who are “unlikely to be of intelligence or security interest” since the 1990s, previously confidential documents reveal. The documents were published as a result of a lawsuit filed by Privacy International, and according to the files, GCHQ and others have been collecting bulk personal data sets since 1998.

Emphasis added:

“These records can be “anything from your private medical records, your correspondence with your doctor or lawyer, even what petitions you have signed, your financial data, and commercial activities,” Privacy International legal officer Millie Graham Wood said in a statement. “The information revealed by this disclosure shows the staggering extent to which the intelligence agencies hoover up our data.”

Nor, it seems, are BPDs only being used to investigate terrorism and serious crime; they can and are used to protect Britain’s “economic well-being”—including preventing pirate copies of Harry Potter books from leaking before their release date.

BPDs are so powerful, in fact, that the normally toothless UK parliament watchdog that oversees intelligence gathering, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), recommended in February that “Class Bulk Personal Dataset warrants are removed from the new legislation.”

These data sets are so large and collect so much information so indiscriminately that they even include information on dead people.”