U.S. indifferent to Yahoo privacy breach

U.S. indifferent to Yahoo privacy breach (credit: Rachel Cohen/Publisher) U.S. indifferent to Yahoo privacy breach (credit: Rachel Cohen/Publisher)
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Having an intimate conversation with your significant other over Yahoo Messenger? You might not be the only one watching.

According to a report by The Guardian, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British spy organization, engaged in a project called Optic Nerve, which collected and stored millions of still images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo users around the world in six months of 2008 alone.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about this surveillance is the manner in which these images were collected — in bulk from everyday Yahoo Messenger users every five minutes. According to the report, the GCHQ was using this information both to aid in facial recognition software and to find existing and new terrorist suspects. Unsurprisingly, the National Security Agency (NSA) was also aiding this effort, and the scale of this project grew much larger than spying on a few “suspected terrorists.”

To make matters worse, the GCHQ even compiled a report regarding the percentage of images collected containing “undesirable nudity,” which they estimated to be between three and 11 percent. This reported percentage reveals that since 2008, the GCHQ has been an unwelcome guest in the intimate conversations of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide.

When informed about GCHQ and the NSA’s actions, Yahoo “reacted furiously,” according to The Guardian. They accused the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and were clearly disgusted by such a violation.

Despite the fact that they may be morally opposed to the collection of such information, companies have no real choice in the matter, as organizations such as the NSA and GCHQ will continue to collect information from their servers until the international community becomes outraged enough. Unfortunately, as reports of Edward Snowden and the NSA begin to die down in the media, it does not look like public opinion will spur this type of action anytime soon.

With every report, it becomes more evident that spy organizations have been collecting unauthorized information from us for much longer than we have realized. Has 1984 finally arrived? Unfortunately, it appears to be here, but the international community has become so used to being devoid of privacy that no one even cares anymore.

Perhaps if the GCHQ were stealing nude images of Yahoo users ten years ago, this story would be one of the main headlines of the year. However, we have become so used to the idea of being spied on that we are indifferent about privacy, something that our founding fathers saw as so important that its protection was written as the Fourth Amendment of America’s Bill of Rights.