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article imageNSA, GCHQ collecting photos, Snowden papers show

By Martin Laine     Jun 1, 2014 in Politics
In the latest example of the continued erosion of personal privacy, both the US and UK spy agencies have been collecting millions of images for use in their facial recognition programs.
According to an article in The Guardian, the UK's GCHQ has stored the images of millions of Yahoo subscribers taken through their WebCams. The New York Times is reporting that the National Security Agency has collected the images of millions of people taken from various sources. Both cite secret documents provided by Edward Snowden as the source for their information.
The reasoning by both agencies is that facial recognition is a vital tool for helping to identify individuals suspected of terrorist activities. The problem is that the images of millions of innocent people are gathered in the process.
Another problem is that, unlike communications, current privacy laws do not address the issue of collecting an individual's an image of their knowledge or consent.
In the British program, known as Optic Nerve, the images of individuals were taken through their Webcams, many of which were sexually explicit.
The documents provided by Snowden cover the period between 2008 and 2010, In one six-month period, the program collected the images from 1.8 million people.
A spokesperson for Yahoo said the company was unaware of the program.
“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” said an unidentified spokeswoman, in the Guardian article.
In the U.S., the NSA has a much greater capacity to gather images from different sources, including emails, teleconferencing, social media and others, according to the Times article, citing the secret documents.
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