OPTIC NERVE, The Guardian, 28 February 2014.

OPTIC NERVE, The Guardian, 28 February 2014.


OPTIC NERVE is a GCHQ programme that collects still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saves them to agency databases, whether or not an individual is an intelligence target (GUA01). The programme uses automated facial recognition technology to match existing targets and to discover potential new targets. Searching a facial recognition database allows for the identification of people who might use multiple online identities. The programme saves one image every five minutes from users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers (GUA01).


Data sources:

  • Yahoo webcam application

Related programmes:

MUSCULAR – GCHQ programme collecting bulk data from Google and Yahoo data centres.

TEMPORA – GCHQ programme for bulk data collection and buffering.

XKEYSCORE – NSA system for searching and analysing Internet data.

MARINA – NSA repository for Internet metadata.

Layers of operation:


In a six-month period in 2008, OPTIC NERVE collected webcam images from over 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts worldwide (GUA01). The programme collects images from “unselected” people, meaning it is used for bulk rather than targeted collection. Yahoo has denied any prior knowledge of the program, and has since expanded encryption across its services.


Guardian (GUA)
1) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/27/gchq-nsa-webcam-images-internet-yahoo

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