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It's well established that the UK loves its surveillance.^  Between their partnership in Echelon and Tempora (which helpfully feeds information back to the NSA in the US), the British Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ have been rather busy. And apparently catching private citizens also getting, shall we say, rather busy. Codenamed Optic Nerve, this program would capture still images from Yahoo Webcam chats. The leaked report states between 3 per cent and 11 per cent of the Yahoo webcam imagery stored by the Cheltenham-based listening post contain ‘undesirable nudity.’ More below the fold.

While they never define 'undesirable nudity' nor list how much desirable nudity they found, the report goes on to say ‘Unfortunately... it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person.' ^^

While Optic Nerve would not capture the entire stream, it would take a screenshot every 5 minutes. Between 2008 and 2010, the GCHQ files reportedly show in one six-month period alone, the agency collected webcam imagery - including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications - from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Don't think that GCHQ wanted to see all that flesh, however: They tried to employ "pornography detectors" to calculate how much flesh would be in any image, then decided if it was too much.

Unfortunately, the detectors didn't work 100%. someone's face too close to the screen could read as "too much flesh" and kick it out as pornography. So they added a facial recognition filter to see if a face was present - if not, chances were they were showing their naughty bits. This too did not work 100%. So they went to the tried and true method of disclaimer:

"We use face detection to try to censor material which may be offensive but this does not work perfectly so you should read the following before using OPTIC NERVE: It is possible to handle and display undesirable images"

But don't think you can save some desirable images and send it to your friends. "You are reminded that under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence.”

Unless you disseminate it to your friends at the NSA. In which case, keep calm and carry on.

^ Well at least the government does - 51% of people surveyed were unhappy about it.
^^ In other news, fire can be used to burn things and water is, in fact, wet. citation needed


How likely is it that there is an NSA equivalent of Optic Nerve?

6%3 votes
4%2 votes
17%8 votes
57%26 votes
0%0 votes
13%6 votes

| 45 votes | Vote | Results

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