Millions of Internet users have been observed by the UK surveillance agency GCHQ, with assistance from the US National Security Agency (NSA), a report in the Guardian reveals.

The agency has likely intercepted and stored images from Yahoo Webcam chats between 2008 and 2010, according to documents seen by the newspaper.

The surveillance operation, codenamed Optic Nerve, apparently collected masses of images – including those of a sexual nature – over the period and stored them.

It appears that Optic Nerve was an experiment in automated facial recognition and was designed to monitor targets identified by GCHQ to help identify terror suspects or criminals using multiple or anonymous user identities.
The bulk collection system collected one image over five minutes from user feeds.

The Guardian reveals that the agency did attempt to guard users’ privacy by restricting bulk searches to metadata and limiting the actual images that analysts could view.

It would seem that Optic Nerve Webcam information was then fed into NSA’s XKeyscore search tool.