Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nudity and National Security

Kalo mina. May you have a good month.  
GCHQ headquarters aka The Doughnut
As the whole world has probably heard by now, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) seems to have started its March off somewhat differently.  GCHQ is the UK’s information gathering version of the US’s NSA (National Security Administration), both of which gained considerable notoriety through the disclosures of Edward Snowden…who to most around the world is now better known than Britain’s Snowdon with an “o” (Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, First Earl of Snowdon and ex-husband of the late sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret).

I first learned of the story thanks to an editorial in Greece’s Ekathimerini newspaper discussing coverage run in Britain’s The Guardian under the title, “Yahoo Webcam images from millions of users intercepted by GCHQ.”

The Greeks, in their inimitable style that I love so, called the story, “Lust in Action, Looted.”  Let’s be real here, between the two captions, which one grabs you more?

None of what is reported in either story should come as a surprise.  THERE IS NOTHING WE DO ELECTRONICALLY THAT ISN’T SEEN BY SOMEONE WE DON’T WANT TO SEE IT.  In this project, known as “Optic Nerve,” the NSA was also involved, this time up to its literal eyeballs.  And let’s face it, every day, more and more, surveillance intrudes increasingly upon even our non-electronic interactions, all for the righteously stated goal of allowing those who protect us to know EVERYTHING we do.  For those of you who have nothing in your life that you’d prefer to keep confidential, God bless your boring life.

Personally, the only thing I have to fear is that I won’t be as slim as I imagine myself to be in all those images. Otherwise, go for it GCHQ, though my vanity would prefer you’d be GQ.

For those of you wondering what the heck I’m talking about, The Guardian reports “Sexually explicit webcam material [obtained off Yahoo] proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: ‘Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person.’”

Duh, hello out there oh genius security gathering folks. Just what do you think those distance-separated husbands, wives, and lovers do for all those hours on Skype?  And I’m talking about those who treasure “family values.”  As for the others, well they know how to use it too. Just attend a performance of “Avenue Q” and listen to the lyrics of “The Internet is for Porn.”

What surprised me most of all was the next paragraph in The Guardian’s story: “The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains ‘undesirable nudity.’”

That’s a pretty good size harvest, though it’s probably a lot higher once you factor in what GCHQ considers “desirable” nudity.  Perhaps they should call in Lord Snowdon for a consultation on that point.  After all, he is a photographer.

Lord Snowdon (1930-)
But wait, there’s more.  Apparently “GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results – a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts… Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them.”

According to Ekathimerini, “GHCQ, worried about how to protect its analysts from such shame, has employed software that excludes images of flesh if it is not part of a face.”

Dodging Surveillance

The Guardian story is quite lengthy, and of the sort that drones on in such a way as to make you want to pass on to something else, and accept that there is nothing we can do about government surveillance but accept it.  It may be harder to resist in the UK because there is no developed “right to privacy” doctrine as there is in the US.  But then again, maybe not.

I’m sure there is a lesson in this for all of us, but for terrorists there is a simple one: If you want to keep your Internet communications secret, do them stark naked with the camera focused on anything but your faces, as it embarrasses GCHQ’s analysts to see you in the flesh.



  1. " embarrasses GCHQ’s analysts to see you in the flesh." Or to see the flesh in you.

    I was right there with you Jeff, until that final picture. Now I tend to agree with GCHQ's brass. Some images should never enter our eyeballs, no matter who we are. Talk about a flesh in the pan. Uh... flash. Uh... never mind.

    1. And I put that photo of Sacha Baron Cohen in there just for you, Everett! But I agree on its esthetic value. On the nude beaches of Mykonos there is much of what locals call "visual pollution."

  2. Leave it to The Guardian to make nudity boring. And to you, Jeff, to report on their ho-hum article and make us laugh out loud! Thanks, I needed that.

  3. To make you laugh, Annamaria, makes me smile, bigtime. :D

  4. Why is it that those who seem to have the least modesty about removing their clothing in public are always those with much to be modest about ...?

    1. I've often wondered the same thing, Zoe. And wondered, and wondered, and wondered...