LONDON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The British intelligence agency CGHQ intercepted millions of webcam images from unsuspected computer users of Yahoo!, the Guardian newspaper said.
The program, called Optic Nerve, began in 2008 with the assistance of the U.S. National Security Agency, collecting images from the webcams of millions of Yahoo! Internet users -- one image taken every 5 minutes, secret documents provided by NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden indicate.
Optic Nerve collected images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo! user accounts during a six-month period of 2008, the Guardian reported.
An internal CGHQ page from 2012 indicates the biometric detection program was still active then, the Guardian said. A document compared access to the webcams to compiling a digital book of mugshots.
"Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by accessing the angle of the face," the document said. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."
The document estimated 3 percent to 11 percent of the captured images contained "undesirable nudity" and suggests CGHQ made no attempt to the block collection or storage of the explicit images.
A 2008 document indicated the spy agency was also interested in exploring the capabilities of Mircosoft's Xbox 360 Kinect camera. Microsoft last year acknowledged the camera bundled with its new Xbox One gaming console is always on by default.
Yahoo! denied any prior knowledge of the program when informed by the Guardian and accused the surveillance agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy."
"We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity," a Yahoo! spokeswoman said. "We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."