Archive for February, 2014

Yahoo webcam images from millions of users intercepted by GCHQ

• Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk
• 1.8m users targeted by UK agency in six-month period alone
• Yahoo: ‘A whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy’
• Material included large quantity of sexually explicit images
Yahoo webcam image.

The GCHQ program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy“.

GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

NSA ragout 4 

Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.

One document even likened the program’s “bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events” to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

“Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,” it reads. “The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts’ ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.

However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display “webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target”.

Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ’s huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA’s XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo’s webcam traffic.

Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because “Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets”.

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Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to “minimize”, or remove, domestic citizens’ information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.

There are no such legal safeguards for searches on people believed to be in the US or the other allied “Five Eyes” nations – Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.

The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: “[I]f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target’s ID”.

The undated document, from GCHQ’s internal wiki information site, noted this capability was “now closed … but shortly to return!”

The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”

Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “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 document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”. Discussing efforts to make the interface “safer to use”, it noted that current “naïve” pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people’s faces as pornography.

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GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results – a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts.

The system was not perfect at stopping those images reaching the eyes of GCHQ staff, though. An internal guide cautioned prospective Optic Nerve users that “there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them”.

It further notes that “under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence”.

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Once collected, the metadata associated with the videos can be as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves.

It is not fully clear from the documents how much access the NSA has to the Yahoo webcam trove itself, though all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts through their routine information-sharing. A previously revealed NSA metadata repository, codenamed Marina, has what the documents describe as a protocol class for webcam information.

In its statement to the Guardian, Yahoo strongly condemned the Optic Nerve program, and said it had no awareness of or involvement with the GCHQ collection.

“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” said a spokeswoman. “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.

“We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”

Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken technology companies objecting to the NSA’s bulk surveillance. It filed a transparency lawsuit with the secret US surveillance court to disclose a 2007 case in which it was compelled to provide customer data to the surveillance agency, and it railed against the NSA’s reported interception of information in transit between its data centers.

The documents do not refer to any specific court orders permitting collection of Yahoo’s webcam imagery, but GCHQ mass collection is governed by the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and requires certification by the foreign secretary, currently William Hague.

The Optic Nerve documentation shows legalities were being considered as new capabilities were being developed. Discussing adding automated facial matching, for example, analysts agreed to test a system before firming up its legal status for everyday use.

“It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate),” the 2008 document reads.

The document continues: “This is allowed for research purposes but at the point where the results are shown to analysts for operational use, the proportionality and legality questions must be more carefully considered.”

Optic Nerve was just one of a series of GCHQ efforts at biometric detection, whether for target recognition or general security.

While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360’s Kinect camera, saying it generated “fairly normal webcam traffic” and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.

Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.

Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash last year when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.

Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras – “think Tom Cruise in Minority Report”, one presentation noted.

The same presentation talks about the strange means the agencies used to try and test such systems, including whether they could be tricked. One way of testing this was to use contact lenses on detailed mannequins.

To this end, GCHQ has a dummy nicknamed “the Head”, one document noted.

In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

“Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

“All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens’ data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs.

However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.

“As we’ve said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself,” she said.

“The NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.

“A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons.”

Congressman Jason Smith is making life a bit difficult for the National Park Service in Washington, DC. Here is an article regarding a recent grilling he gave the NPS:

US Rep Jason Smith on Ozark Scenic National Riverways

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways was not on today’s agenda.

But U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, wasn’t going to allow the opportunity to slip past.

The associate director at the National Park Service had been called to Capitol Hill to talk about some minor business, such as renaming a peak at Yellowstone and creating memorials to the two wars with Iraq.

Smith used the day’s House subcommittee hearing to bring up the Ozark Riverways, which includes the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers in Smith’s district.

The Park Service is finalizing a long-range management plan for the park. The federal agency already has stated it was leaning toward a plan with new restrictions on motorboats, horseback riders and ATVs. That has provoked clashes with some residents living along the rivers.

Smith has vowed to fight the Park Service on any changes. Earlier this month, he filed a bill asking the Park Service to surrender the park to Missouri.

Today, in a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, Smith had some comments for Park Service associate director Victor Knox.

“I have, you know, extremely great concerns with the ONSR general management plan,” Smith told Knox.

Smith said the current plan has “worked just great.”

“You understand that I will fight tooth and nail to stop any wilderness area from every being designated in that area,” Smith continued. “And if your agency attempts to put in a wilderness area by administrative order, I will do everything in my power to see that you’re unfunded to do that.”

Knox listened.

“Well, congressman,” he said, “we certainly appreciate that you’re engaged and working with this plan. It takes all of us to come up with the right management plan for the area. So we appreciate your engagement and support.”

Missouri senator introduces religious freedom bill

A Republican state lawmaker filed legislation Monday that would allow Missouri business owners to cite religious beliefs as a legal justification for refusing to provide service.

Although it doesn’t mention sexual orientation, the bill could provide legal cover for denial of services to same-sex couples.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau, states that a governmental authority shall not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion unless the government demonstrates that it has a compelling interest.

To supporters of the idea — similar to legislation filed in several other states — the goal is to make it clear that private individuals can use religious beliefs as a defense in litigation.

“We’re trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom,” Wallingford said.

Opponents contend bills like Wallingford’s would allow businesses to discriminate against anyone they do not like, most notably gays and lesbians.

“It’s a legislative attempt to legalize discrimination toward (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals,” said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the LGBT rights organization PROMO.

Wallingford said he based the bill loosely on legislation that has been debated in other states, such as Kansas and Arizona. He pointed to instances that have cropped up in debate in those other states.

In Washington state, for example, a florist would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. And in Colorado, a baker refused to make a cake for a party celebrating the wedding of two men.

In both cases, the business owners cited religious beliefs in declining to provide services and were eventually sued.

“This is trying to provide a defense in those types of instances,” Wallingford said.

He said the bill is also designed to protect businesses such as Hobby Lobby, which is engaged in a protracted legal fight to over the company’s religious objection to providing insurance coverage for certain types of contraception as mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Hobby Lobby lawsuit this year.

In the states where similar bills have been debated, controversy erupted.

In Kansas, the state House approved a bill to prohibit government fines and anti-discrimination lawsuits when people, groups or businesses cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to gay and lesbian couples.

But that legislation has stalled in the Kansas Senate.

Gay-rights supporters planned to rally at the Kansas Statehouse in opposition to the bill Tuesday.

Wallingford was one of nine senate Republicans who joined with Democrats last year to pass a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights Act. State law currently prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and age, among other categories, but not sexual orientation.

That bill died in the closing moments of the 2013 session when the House didn’t bring it up for a vote.

Bockelman said Wallingford’s bill sets up a situation where one Missouri law says certain people are protected from discrimination while another would essentially allow that discrimination if it were based on religious convictions.

“The Human Rights Act says there are protected classes, such as race and gender, with a history of facing discrimination,” Bockelman said. “But this bill says a person’s religious beliefs are more protected.”

Wallingford said he still supports outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. He points out that his bill specifically states it would not apply to discrimination against those included in the Missouri Human Rights Act.

“There should not be discrimination in the workplace,” Wallingford said. “But businesses should be free to practice their religious beliefs.”

Earlier this month, the House approved legislation sponsored by Speaker Tim Jones that would allow health care workers could refuse to take part in certain medical procedures that violate their ethical or religious beliefs.


(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at

Just a reminder that we will have our monthly meeting tomorrow night at ConnXtions Entertainment Complex in Mountain Grove from 7-9pm Thursday, February 27th. Topics of discussion will be updates on Real ID and it’s full implementation in Missouri, some legislative issues and other federal level issues that concern everyone. We will also have an in depth presentation on Common Core by our very special guest Stacy Shore.

Please come early and dine at the great restaurant at ConnXtions to support those who support us! They have a varied menu and you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy.

ConnXtions is located 2 1/2 blocks west of South 95 on Business 60 before the square in Mountain Grove. We meet in the large meeting room directly to the right after entering the building. The meeting will begin at 7pm and end promptly at 9pm.

Please spread the word and invite anyone concerned with education at all. Common Core is going to affect all of our children whether you home school or use private or public schools.
Look forward to seeing you there!

This is good news, and the model we ought to follow with ALL federal agencies:

GOING ROGUE: Idaho wants to nullify all EPA regulations

Posted By Michael Bastasch

Idaho is sick of the Environmental Protection Agency telling it how to manage its natural resources — and lawmakers have proposed a bill that would nullify EPA regulations.

The bill was proposed after dredge miners complained that the EPA and its “jack-booted thugs in swat uniforms” were trying to make gold dredging harder though increased permitting requirements. Gold dredgers Idaho state senators that the agency was trying to use the Clean Water Act to eliminate dredging all together.

“It appears the EPA bureaucracy has an agenda in its interpretation of what pollution is,” said state Rep. Paul Shepherd, the Republican who introduced the nullification bill. “They’re saying if you pick up sand with a suction dredge, run it through and dump it back in the water, that’s pollution. It’s pretty much shutting (the dredgers) down. That’s the main thing driving this, but the bill pertains to any regulations not approved by the people.”

Environmentalists argue that the extra gold dredging permit now required by the EPA “gives dredgers a legal and environmental certainty for their exploration,” reports the Twin Falls Times-News.

“The bill doesn’t nullify regulations approved by Congress, Shepherd said, but does nullify regulations created by the EPA alone to implement legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts,” Shepherds said.

But the EPA says that these permits are necessary, or else gold dredging would be illegal. Before the agency imposed more permitting, dredgers faced fines totalling $37,500 a day.

“In a sense it creates a mechanism to do this activity in Idaho,” EPA Idaho Director Jim Werntz told the Times-News. “There are other states who have stopped the activity altogether, or are stopping it in huge sections of the state.“

Even some fellow Republicans have had concerns over whether or not the nullification bill is a good idea, though others remain open to the idea.

“I hope this doesn’t undermine efforts to find a solution,” said Republican state Rep. Eric Anderson. “Also, we codified many of these regulations into state law when we took primacy over the EPA programs, so this bill would be nullifying state law at the same time.”

Unlike the U.S. Congress and most states, Idaho requires that the state legislature approve of all regulations being promulgated by state agencies.

“The legislature declares that the regulation authority of the United States environmental protection agency is not authorized by the Constitution of the United States and violates its true meaning and intent as given by the founders and ratifiers, and is hereby declared to be invalid in the state of Idaho,shall not be recognized by this state, is specifically rejected by this state and shall be considered null and void and of no force and effect in this state,” according to the nullification bill introduced by Shepherd.

Dredging uses floating vacuums to suck up or spit out water and dirt to find gold. the Clean Water Act says that “point source discharges of pollutants into waters” need to be permitted. Idaho was one of the last states to impose EPA dredging rules.

Copyright © 2011 Daily Caller. All rights reserved.

The EPA proposed regulations concerning emissions regulations on wood stove manufacturers does not actually prohibit people from burning wood. It does propose to prevent the manufacture of wood burning stoves that don’t meet the ridiculous regulatory prescriptions they are wanting to put into place. So it’s kind of like saying, you can still drive a car, but all new cars have to get 300 miles per gallon and tires will now cost $1500 a piece.

At any rate, the EPA regs regarding wood burning stoves will destroy yet another business sector within the US. It’s actually such a big deal that little old Mountain Grove, Missouri is making national level news because it will directly destroy a pretty good business in our area. Here is an article from Newsmax about these regs and their effects should they come into force:

EPA Wood-Stove Proposal Prompts Rural Backlash

Sunday, February 23, 2014 11:33 AM

By: Newsmax Wires

A federal proposal to clean up the smoke wafting from wood-burning stoves has sparked a backlash from some rural residents, lawmakers and manufacturers who fear it could close the damper on one of the oldest ways of warming homes on cold winter days.

Proposed regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would significantly reduce the amount of particle pollution allowed from the smokestacks of new residential wood-powered heaters.

Wood-burning stoves are a staple in rural homes in many states, a cheap heating source for low-income residents and others wanting to lessen their reliance on gas or electric furnaces. Outdoor models often cost several thousand dollars, but indoor stoves can cost as little as a few hundred dollars and sometimes double as fashionable centerpieces in homes.

Some manufacturers contend the EPA’s proposed standards are so stringent that the higher production costs would either force them out of business or raise prices so high that many consumers could no longer afford their products.

“There’s not a stove in the United States that can pass the test right now — this is the death knoll of any wood burning,” Reg Kelly, the founder of Earth Outdoor Furnaces in Mountain Grove, told Missouri lawmakers during a recent hearing.

More than three dozen Missouri lawmakers have co-sponsored a bill that would symbolically fight back against the EPA by declaring that “All Missourians have a right to heat their homes and businesses using wood-burning furnaces, stoves, fireplaces and heaters.”

This past week, a Missouri House committee endorsed a revised measure that proposes to ban state environmental officials from regulating residential wood heaters unless authorized by the Legislature.

Missouri appears to be one the first states to introduce legislation in response to the proposed EPA regulations. But concerns over wood-stove pollution and regulations also have been simmering in other states, including Utah and Alaska.

States such as Washington and New York already have adopted stricter emission rules. And last fall, New York’s attorney general led a coalition of seven states in a federal lawsuit seeking to compel to the EPA to adopt new emission limits on wood-fired boilers, which heat water that is piped into a home’s radiator system.

The EPA’s existing regulations date to 1988 and don’t apply to all of the different kinds of wood-burning devices now in use. Under a proposed rule change released last month, the EPA would give manufacturers five years to meet standards that would reduce emissions by an estimated 80 percent.

The EPA has scheduled a public hearing next Wednesday in Boston, and the sponsor of the Missouri legislation plans to travel there to make his case.

“What they’re doing is unnecessary, and it comes against our American values and our traditions,” said Rep. Tim Remole, a Republican who has a wood stove at his rural Missouri home.

There are about 12 million wood stoves in U.S. homes, including about 9 million that are less than half as efficient as the newer stoves, according to the EPA. The agency’s proposed rules would not affect stoves already in homes.

Most people who own wood stoves have other means of heat, such as electric or gas furnaces. But about 2 percent U.S. homes rely on wood as their primary heating source — a figure that has been rising over the past decade.

Darwin Woods, who owns a farm near the small central Missouri town of Clark, said his 12-year-old outdoor wood stove heats both his home and water. Though he wouldn’t be forced to upgrade the stove, Woods views the proposed EPA rule as an intrusion.

“It’s just another way for them to control my life and lifestyle and basically force me to pay more for just survival,” Woods said.

Others point to the negative health effects from burning wood. The fine particles can worsen asthma and cardiovascular problems, ultimately leading to earlier deaths, according to the American Lung Association.

In Utah, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has called for a winter ban on wood-burning in an attempt to improve air quality. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has also proposed its own emission requirements.

But some homeowners “want to keep their fireplaces to have a way to heat homes and cook food in the event an earthquake cuts gas lines and power,” said Erin Mendenhall, a Salt Lake City council member and executive director of Breathe Utah, which is offering to replace wood stoves with gas units.

The National Firewood Association, based in Duluth, Minn., says some of the pollution from wood-burning stoves could be reduced if people would burn only aged wood rather than wood with too much wet sap.

“A properly burning wood fire — there’s virtually no smoke or smell,” said Executive Director Scott Salveson.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.