Spying through smartphone cameras, computer webcams, laptops and tablets is widespread and governments have been checking people out for years.
Between 20, GCHQ, Britain's NSA, ran a program called Optic Nerve that scanned live webcam chats on Yahoo (and probably other chat services).
Marcus Thomas, a former assistant director of the FBI's Operational Technology Division in Quantico, Virginia, tells the Washington Post that the FBI could spy on anyone's webcam without turning on the camera's indicator light.
While not all webcams have indicator lights, and many laptops do not have them at all, the indicator light is a nice security feature that tells you when the camera is active.
Webcam spying is part of a suite of so-called Remote Access Tools or RATS.
Thomas told the Post that the FBI has had these tools for years but uses "Rattingly" (the webcam spying tool) sparingly.
Many have either claimed or speculated that one way the NSA and other U. spy agencies got around the prohibition of spying on Americans was to let a third party do it for them. News reports, based on the leaks of NSA information by Edward Snowden, say that GCHQ stored millions of images gleaned from its webcam surveillance.
According to the New York Times, the Australian Signals Directorate tapped a U. law firm representing Indonesian interests and offered their intercepts to the NSA. These images can be retrieved in various ways, including the use of advanced face recognition systems, so seemingly unrelated video chats from different computers and with different names or web addresses, can be linked together.
This sort of special intelligence cooperation is a regular occurrence under the "Five Eyes" program. Obviously, when used correctly and legally, this is an important counter-terrorism tool. government still has, new legislation notwithstanding, is how to assure the proper handling of extremely personal information that is completely unrelated to any counter terrorism or criminal activity.
But when it is used as a political tool to harass or blackmail people, the consequences are different and corrosive. But the NSA and GCHQ aren't the only entities spying on webcams.
Szymon Sidor is a Polish-born software engineering genius currently working for Dropbox as an intern.
Before that, he served two internships with Google working on Google Chrome and Google Analytics.
He is working on his Ph D at MIT and writes a blog called Snacks for Your Mind.