British spy agency GCHQ, in collaboration with its US counterpart, has allegedly intercepted and stored webcam images from several millions of innocent Yahoo users globally, showing blatant disrespect for citizens' privacy, latest Snowden-led report revealed.
Both the spying agencies carried out a surveillance programme codenamed 'Optic Nerve' between 2008 and 2010, which intercepted and captured webcam imagery from over 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts in a six-month period in 2008 alone, including sexually explicit images.
Citing whistleblower's report, The Guardian noted that the automatic facial recognition programme was aimed at monitoring existing suspects as well discovering new targets of interest for the intelligence agencies.
The webcam imagery was captured via submarine fibre internet cables, which the British agency had tapped via the Upstream programme, and the data was uploaded into the US NSA's XKeyscore programme, which makes it searchable by analysts.
The report added that between 3% and 11% of the captured imagery was considered 'explicit'.
Images were taken once every five minutes: a limit issued to prevent overloading GCHQ systems, as well to meet the terms of thehuman rights legislation.
The report noted: "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," the report added.
Strongly condemning and denying any complicity in the programme, Yahoo said that it was not aware of the surveillance nor it was involved in the programme.
"This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December," the internet firm added.
"We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."