A British spy agency collected webcam images from millions of Yahoo users who thought they were engaging in private video conversations, according to a news report based on leaked documents from the former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden.
Many of the images were sexually explicit, said the report in Thursday's Guardian newspaper, which said the British agency GCHQ tapped into transmissions between Yahoo users around the world, apparently with some technical help from the U.S. National Security Agency.
The report sparked new outrage among Internet users and companies that provide Internet services. Yahoo reacted with fury, saying in a statement that it wasn't aware of the British operation, code-named Optic Nerve.
"We were not aware of nor would we condone this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable," said a Yahoo spokeswoman. "We strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance laws consistent with the principles we outlined in December."
While it's unclear how many Yahoo subscribers were affected in the United States or other countries, the Guardian said documents showed the British agency collected webcam images from more than 1.8 million Yahoo users around the world during one six-month period of 2008.
The program lasted at least until 2012, said the newspaper, which noted that GCHQ has no restrictions under British law against collecting images from U.S. citizens without a warrant. The newspaper also said the agency had no technical ability to keep the images of U.S. or British citizens from being collected.