GCHQ considered using Microsoft's Kinect for surveillance: Snowden leaks

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden have shown that the GCHQ - the UK's version of the NSA - previously explored the potential of Microsoft's Kinect camera for mass surveillance.

According to leaks which were initially published in The Guardian, the GCHQ ran a program called 'Optic Nerve', which targeted 1.8 million Yahoo users and collected webcam images in bulk. According to The Guardian, Optic Nerve began as a prototype in 2008 with the express purpose of "facial recognition" and building up databases of potential surveillance targets.

The GCHQ had initially considered using the Kinect for this same sort of surveillance. Although nothing apparently came out of it, several documents have shown that the GCHQ considered the Kinect camera to provide "fairly normal webcam traffic" which would be potentially useful as part of their wider Optic Nerve program.

Microsoft commented on the issue today in a response to Eurogamer, stating that they were "concerned" with the claims.

Microsoft has never heard of this program. 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.

We're not aware of any surveillance activity. If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn't done with our consent.

Leaked documents have embroiled the GCHQ in a fair bit of controversy recently. Earlier this month, it was shown that they had disrupted an IRC network belonging to Anonymous members by DDoSing the server. Further documents have also shown that the GCHQ not only engages in technical attacks, but also social manipulation - discrediting "enemies" through propaganda and honeypot tactics. 

Since the Kinect now ships with every new Xbox One, which has sold 2.27 million units in January alone, there is an increased potential for its usage as a mass surveillance tool - but awareness of the GCHQ's potential project may significantly impact any future plans to do so.

Source: The Guardian via IGN | Image via Google

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69 Comments

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lol, "considered".

We've got trouble Clippy, potentially damaging news has surfaced!
Fanboys activate!

We've had HOW many debates on this? Case closed for the sensible.

> GCHQ considered using Microsoft's Kinect for surveillance: Snowden leaks

The headline implies that they're not. Which is really the bigger story.

Question: Why do some people feel the Kinect is a risk when they are holding a phone with two cameras while setting in front of a lap top with a camera?

Because it is. My phone is in my pocket most of the time. Everyone I know has a little black tape over the camera on laptops, everyone.

Saddam Hussein was the last known enemy of the United States interested in consoles. I remember he ordered a few thousand PlayStation 2s.

How does implementing more encryption do anything?? All they need to do is get a court order that says "give us all your dataz and don't tell anyone, or we'll mess you up"

This reminds me of batman forever 1995 film...

"The Riddler perfects a device for draining information from all the brains in Gotham" by way of a device/tv set.

Enron said,
Snowden must really enjoy making this stuff up.

Too bad the NSA and the US president admitted to the existence of PRISM. I guess it's easy to ignore something that you don't want to hear.

simplezz said,

Too bad the NSA and the US president admitted to the existence of PRISM. I guess it's easy to ignore something that you don't want to hear.

That's another thing, and I'm not terribly concerned about it, because I already assumed they had that kind of capability for years. But now the guy is just using the wave of PRISM to make up other things. He could also say microwave ovens are listening to conversations in the kitchen and people would believe it.

When is it going to come out GCHQ/NSA have been monitoring skype and taking images from it? If they did it with yahoo they probably did the same with skype and others

Microsoft said,
That's why in December we initiated a broad effort to expand encryption across our services

This could mean that Microsoft will help GCHQ and NSA to spy more privately. Microsoft can install NSA spy-ware on any PC trough Windows Updates by masking it as critical security update which would be very ironic . NSA could easily maintain their own Windows Update server and infect group of users by changing DNS record on server used by victim.

Edited by EJocys, Mar 1 2014, 10:23am :

People would quickly discover it, if they did that and provide ways to disable it. Also, I don't think Microsoft supports the spying that NSA and GCHQ are doing as I remember them teaming up with other tech companies to write an open letter to the government to try stop it.

LimeMaster92 said,
People would quickly discover it

Probably, but it took 6 years to "discover" Yahoo webcam spying. Problem is that, with help of root certificate providers, could tell if server is genuine or NSA's spyware infecting host. With network traffic haystack growing bigger it would be harder to find NSA needle in it.

EJocys said,

This could mean that Microsoft will help GCHQ and NSA to spy more privately. Microsoft can install NSA spy-ware on any PC trough Windows Updates by masking it as critical security update which would be very ironic . NSA could easily maintain their own Windows Update server and infect group of users by changing DNS record on server used by victim.
False. Who is it for us to say MS would have been in on it? All these backdoors? Apple claims there is no back door to iOS, yet it has been reveled that every iPhone or iPad that is using GSM can be access by NSA. They can turn on your camera without u even knowing it.

LimeMaster92 said,
People would quickly discover it, if they did that and provide ways to disable it.

If it's proprietary software like Windows, it's impossible to audit it.

LimeMaster92 said,

Also, I don't think Microsoft supports the spying that NSA and GCHQ are doing as I remember them teaming up with other tech companies to write an open letter to the government to try stop it.

Only after they were found out. That applies to Google etc as well. They had to be seen to be doing something otherwise Qui tacet consentire videtur is presumed.

Just remember, if the Kinect was constantly uploading video using your internet connection, it would've been noticed by now. I can bet you that there are people that checked this as soon as the Xbox One was released. Uploading video is definitely something you'd notice on most internet connections.

The fact that there's no videos on YouTube, no blog posts etc demonstrating the Xbox uploading Kinect video data to Microsoft's servers (other than when initiated by the user, of course) means it's very unlikely this is happening.

Remember, many people looked at using the Kinect for many different things when it was first released. How do we know their research wasn't pertaining to using the Kinect with the Kinect for Windows SDK for surveillance on specific targets?

To see these reports and jump straight to the conclusion that the NSA is spying on your living room with your Kinect is absurd. If you're that worried, just unplug the thing...

Snowden has a PS4 and when he found out » Wolfenstein: The New Order was 1080P on XB1, he had to make a story about MS doing something wrong and so It would divert the story away from the 1080P

no, its just getting more and more interesting how this guy has a secret document for every month and on my part i begin to doubt the truth behind them

so there were secret projects that were only in the planning phase so nobody heard about them, nobody did anything and no evidence at all exists to prove it - it's like the typical ufo-crap published on blogs with bad grammar and crappy photos

It actually makes sense to only release a few documents at a time. This keeps the mass surveillance issue in the news and stops people like you from dismissing everything in one fell swoop.

morden said,
no, its just getting more and more interesting how this guy has a secret document for every month and on my part i begin to doubt the truth behind them

so there were secret projects that were only in the planning phase so nobody heard about them, nobody did anything and no evidence at all exists to prove it - it's like the typical ufo-crap published on blogs with bad grammar and crappy photos

Before Snowden, did you know that the NSA was collecting data? NO YOU DIDNT. Had you even heard of the NSA? NO YOU DIDNT. The Government doesn't ell you everything.

Why don't you grow up and stop dismissing info just because they didn't tell you first.
The Government didn't tell you they planned 9/11, so they could start and illegal war and take away many of your Constitution freedoms, but that didn't prevent it from happening...DID IT?

Why don't you wake up and accept the fact this is the world me live in. I don't know where you live, but I live in Chicago. I look up and it just like what I see in movies. Their are cameras everywhere. On buildings, light poles, street signs and even in trees. Who you think is putting them all their? YOUR BEST FRIEND?

Come on man, are you really going to be this naïve?

Crimson Rain said,
What? You don't wanna know the truth? Or have you sold your soul to them?

Ignorance is bliss for some people, unfortunately; especially when their love of a company clouds their better judgement.

Hi_XPecTa_Chens said,

Before Snowden, did you know that the NSA was collecting data?

Yes

Hi_XPecTa_Chens said,

Had you even heard of the NSA?

Yes

Hi_XPecTa_Chens said,

The Government doesn't ell you everything.

Why don't you grow up and stop dismissing info just because they didn't tell you first.

So if I told you the government was going to put mind control algae in the water supply, would you believe it? Or would you believe it if Snowden said so, without any evidence?

Hi_XPecTa_Chens said,

The Government didn't tell you they planned 9/11, so they could start and illegal war and take away many of your Constitution freedoms, but that didn't prevent it from happening...DID IT?

Nah they didn't tell us that. Maybe because that's some tin foil hat conspiracy stuff you're spouting out.

Hi_XPecTa_Chens said,

Why don't you wake up and accept the fact this is the world me live in. I don't know where you live, but I live in Chicago. I look up and it just like what I see in movies. Their are cameras everywhere. On buildings, light poles, street signs and even in trees. Who you think is putting them all their? YOUR BEST FRIEND?

Come on man, are you really going to be this naïve?

Camera surveillance of public areas is nothing new.

morden said,
no, its just getting more and more interesting how this guy has a secret document for every month and on my part i begin to doubt the truth behind them

Or you learn to read instead.

He doesn't have a new document for each month. He gave 'em all to the media. It is the media people who are going thru docs and releasing one by one.

Kinda funny how random software is added when companies don't add it yet its added without people knowing and when its discovered the companies don't know how it got on there.
For them to use it as a spying device they would need to have a software on there to do it as well.

I would assume then that this applies to the ps4 camera as well. Of course if your concerned about it with the X1, just unplug Kinect.

Its becoming pretty clear that no one is really secure if the government is hell bent on spying. If its not Kinect, its web cams, if its not that, its the ps4 camera, if its not that, its cell phones, laptops, etc, etc, etc.

The fact that they considered using Kinect is not shocking nor should it shock anyone else. If your a spy agency looking for ways to increase your reach, then of course trying to tap into a camera that will be sitting in a lot of homes would be ideal. At least in this case, they didn't actually do it for whatever reason.

So if we are to believe Snowden and this leak, well then at least we know they didn't use Kinect at all. Maybe it was more trouble then it was worth, who knows. MS better be on high alert and make sure they have done what they can to make sure such thing is very, very, very difficult to pull off.

trooper11 said,
I would assume then that this applies to the ps4 camera as well. Of course if your concerned about it with the X1, just unplug Kinect.

Isn't the Kinect mandatory? If so, that's very different to an optional peripheral like the PS4's or a PC's webcam.

simplezz said,

Isn't the Kinect mandatory? If so, that's very different to an optional peripheral like the PS4's or a PC's webcam.

It was but that's one of the policies they changed so it isn't anymore. Although even if you have it unplugged you don't get the 10% computing they have reserved for it back which is unfortunate. Also the fact that it's "always on"... listening at least even when the console is in standby is different I believe from the PS4 camera. With the PS4 camera first, most people don't have it at all since it wasn't included. Second it was never required and no processing is permanently reserved for it, and third isn't "always on" even if connected so when you console is powered down you don't have to worry about it listening or recording.

Asmodai said,
Some people can have the truth staring them in the face and still not believe it.
I don't see why people are so worry about this. I highly doubt that the government care what you do alone when no one is watching, let alone care about what you do on your Xbox.

link6155 said,
I don't see why people are so worry about this. I highly doubt that the government care what you do alone when no one is watching, let alone care about what you do on your Xbox.

Actually is quite simple: a government does not care about what you, intended as link6155, do but they do care about you, as one of its subject, do.
The Republic by Plato is an interesting reading to understand the matter.

Asmodai said,
Some people can have the truth staring them in the face and still not believe it.

Who said it's the truth? Besides this Snowden guy. Not a very trustworthy fellow to begin with.

link6155 said,
Snowden could say anything he wants and people will believe it.

The fact that the NSA has admitted what Snowden's been saying is true lends credibility to his leaks.

Enron said,

Who said it's the truth? Besides this Snowden guy. Not a very trustworthy fellow to begin with.

You make it sound like "this Snowden guy" is just standing around the public square saying something. He's releasing official documents he smuggled out of the NSA from when he worked there. I don't think even the U.S. is claiming they are untrue or that he didn't work for them. They are legit and the government's not happy about it.

link6155 said,
I don't see why people are so worry about this. I highly doubt that the government care what you do alone when no one is watching, let alone care about what you do on your Xbox.

If they didn't care why are they bothering to hack into Yahoo! webcam streams? Why are they getting your phone records?

Asmodai said,

If they didn't care why are they bothering to hack into Yahoo! webcam streams? Why are they getting your phone records?

Can you provide a specific and verified example of unauthorized webcam monitoring?

Enron said,

Can you provide a specific and verified example of unauthorized webcam monitoring?


Quite difficult with the Patriot Act and the FISA one....

Enron said,

Can you provide a specific and verified example of unauthorized webcam monitoring?

The NSA admitted to thousands of instances of unauthorised spying. For example agents accessing the information of past love interests. And that's only what's been reported. No doubt the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Enron said,

Can you provide a specific and verified example of unauthorized webcam monitoring?


Are you asking me personally? Did you read the source article?

Enron said,

Ok, then can Snowden?

He did... and now is labeled as an outlaw... MS, Google and other companies are petitioning the Congress to be allowed to say what has happened because, at the moment, they cannot. And these are facts.

Russell Green said,
The tin hats were right!

A lot of the so called conspiracies are proving to be true. Makes one wonder if 9/11 wasn't allowed to happen after all.

It doesn't matter if 9/11 was an inside job, just need to judge the actions from the powers that be after it happened. Their certainly glad it happened.

Just sell your Kinect 2.0 on eBay, they're going for quite a tidy sum actually. I'm going to put mine up, it seems too good to pass up! It might not fetch a lot after they start selling it separately for development purposes. I barely use it anyway.

simplezz said,
Why would someone pay for a spy cam in their living room?

You're questioning that if someone buys it on ebay, but not questioning it when it comes with the console you get from regular stores?

_dandy_ said,

You're questioning that if someone buys it on ebay, but not questioning it when it comes with the console you get from regular stores?

I'm questioning that too

simplezz said,

Why would someone pay for a spy cam in their living room?
I think a lot of people would actually want to pick it up to experiment with, not to connect it to an Xbox One. I guess that's why there's an eBay market for it.

i guess this explain why Microsoft insist Kinect must be included xbone package, and the original always-online attitudes.
the pressure from the spooks was quite heavy for Microsoft to deny their 'demands'.

so whats the deal with govt?
more leeway in anti-consumers attitudes?
court will absolutely rejects any class-action law-suit against Microsoft?

I would also guess that the feds provided a small incentive, making it even more profitable while "adding" a feature over the competition

Torolol said,
i guess this explain why Microsoft insist Kinect must be included xbone package, and the original always-online attitudes.
the pressure from the spooks was quite heavy for Microsoft to deny their 'demands'.

so whats the deal with govt?
more leeway in anti-consumers attitudes?
court will absolutely rejects any class-action law-suit against Microsoft?

eh.. I wouldn't be so quick to make that assumption.

Torolol said,
i guess this explain why Microsoft insist Kinect must be included xbone package, and the original always-online attitudes.
the pressure from the spooks was quite heavy for Microsoft to deny their 'demands'.

Microsoft has always been very compliant with spy agencies according to the Snowden leaks. It was the first member of PRISM. For that reason, I don't think any pressure was necessary.

Torolol said,

so whats the deal with govt?
more leeway in anti-consumers attitudes?
court will absolutely rejects any class-action law-suit against Microsoft?

That's the real question. Verizon and AT&T received a fair amount of monetary compensation, so perhaps the disappearance of Microsoft's antitrust woes was suitable recompense for them.