The Guardian recently revealed that Britain's version of our NSA, the GCHQ, has been intercepting, storing and processing webcam images of millions of Internet users from 2008 through 2012. The program, called Optic Nerve, was an attempt to apply facial recognition technology to web images in order to identify intelligence targets. However, the information was gathered in bulk at staggering levels, reportedly 1.8 million people in a six month period alone. It has also reportedly been fed into the NSA's XKeyscore system.
Guardian reporter James Ball on Democracy Now!:
This is essentially the problem of bulk surveillance. It’s—we all do things which are perfectly acceptable, legitimate activities, but private—you know, things that we send to our partners, to our friends. We all do things that we wouldn’t want the world to know. And that’s kind of the problem. If it’s all collected, we all have some things we might [not] want used against us. And so, if the intelligence agencies really want to say, "Look, OK, we collected this stuff. It might be a bit compromising, but we don’t want to and we’d never dream of misusing it," that really is demanding quite a lot of trust. It’s—deliberately or not, they essentially have a bit of a blackmail file on almost everyone. And the issue is, with stories like that, it does suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be trusting them with it. As I should say, to be fair to the agencies, on this particular program, there’s no sign of misuse. But we do know, from the report you cited in November and so on, it’s not as if they’ve dismissed this as a tactic. And I think the idea of the government building, deliberately or accidentally, these dossiers on each of us is quite worrying.