Report: UK Spy Agency Evaluated the Potential of Using Kinect, PlayStation Eye for Bulk Surveillance

February 28, 2014 - GamePolitics Staff

New documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden cited in a new Guardian report indicate that UK spy agency GCHQ evaluated the potential of using the Xbox 360 (and now Xbox One) Kinect peripheral as a means to spy on people. The report also indicates that the agency also considered the usefulness of the PlayStation Eye as well.

The documents dated between 2008 and 2010 suggest that a surveillance program, codenamed Optic Nerve, collected images of internet users through Yahoo's webcam chat service. During a six-month period in 2008, the agency secretly collected photos of more than 1.8 million Yahoo users through webcams. The program saved the bulk of images to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

Yahoo said "we are not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity, adding: "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."

While there are indications that the program using webcams connected to personal computers was in fact initiated, the documents do not seem to indicate one way or the other if the agency went ahead with its plans to use console-connected motion sensing camera devices on either the PS3 or Xbox 360.

The documents do reveal a GCHQ presentation that outlines the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360's Kinect camera. That presentation described the device as generating "fairly normal webcam traffic" and was under evaluation. Those documents are dated between 2008 and 2012, so it remains unclear whether GCHQ had ever captured images of Xbox 360 or Xbox One users.

Microsoft has told several outlets this morning that it had no knowledge of the program, but did express concern that such a program was even considered.

A Microsoft spokesperson told CVG that the company "has never heard of this program," adding, "However, we're concerned about any reports of governments surreptitiously collecting private customer data. That's why in December we initiated a broad effort to expand encryption across our services and are advocating for legal reforms."

Source: The Guardian


 
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