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  • We've almost gotten blasé now when we hear about new hacker exploits that cripple millions of credit cards or computers, or state snooping on people in public rest rooms. The Internet is one incredible gift that keeps on giving.

    This week, The Guardian released another state secret, courtesy of that nice Mr. Snowden. Seems that in 2008 QCHQ, the UK spy agency, started to scoop up peoples' countenances and connection details by tapping into Yahoo's video Web chat sessions. Apparently, they monitored all the chatters, not just the suspected perps. They may still be doing it, and could have branched out to monitor Skype and other services by now for all we know.

    They called the program Optic Nerve. It tapped into network switches and trunk lines to find chat sessions and grab webcam images from each one every five minutes to assemble a vast mug book. It then performed facial recognition on images of Yahoo users whose log-in IDs resembled those of persons of interest (“targets”). No word on what if anything all this snooping disclosed that has helped to defeat terrorism, but we do know that they reached out and touched 1.8 million Yahoo users from many countries in this manner in the first six months alone.

    One document leaked from the agency justified the Optic Nerve program by saying "Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets." I see; this is target practice. Another one, feigning surprise, said, "it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person."

    It figures. Naked, horny terrorists are the worst kind.

    As I said, I don't know if this monitoring is still happening or which video chat services may be tapped. So, as a pubic service, to preserve your privacy I have prepared the image you see up front. Print it out and suspend it in front of your webcam when you are having a video chat. It might distress your counterpart to have to gaze on it, but just tell him or her that it's for security purposes, not to gross them out. Indeed, you should urge them to do the same.

    As a bonus, you can do things like smoke dope or pick your nose while you chat and nobody will know.
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