UK intelligence agency GCHQ "intercepted and stored" the webcam images of internet users who were not suspected of any wrongdoing, the Guardian claimed, citing secret documents.
Files dated between 2008 and 2010 allegedly show a monitoring programme, known as "Optic Nerve", stored still images from Yahoo webcam chats and saved them to agency databases with the help of its US counterpart the National Security Agency.
GCHQ has consistently said its activities are necessary and "carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework”.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Iain Lobban is doing an outstanding job as director GCHQ.
"Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on as planned at the end of the year."
Sir Iain has already had one extension to his tenure as director since his appointment in June 2008.
By the time he leaves, among the current crop of government department heads only Sir Nicholas Macpherson at the Treasury will have served for longer.
The head of the GCHQ intelligence gathering agency is to stand down, the Foreign Office has said.
Sir Iain Lobban, 53, is leaving in what was said to be a long-planned move.
Officials denied his departure was linked to the disclosures of the former US intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden.
Responding to reports that UK and US intelligence agencies have been developing capabilities to take advantage of smartphone applications to gather users' private information, a spokesman for British intelligence agency GCHQ told the Guardian:
It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.
Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position.
Technology companies have reached a deal that will allow them to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive, the US Justice Department has said.
The agreement would settle demands from companies such as Google and Microsoft for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders.
Companies will now be able to disclose:
- The number of orders from the government related to criminal activity
- The number of orders from the government related to secret national security
- The number of orders from a foreign intelligence service related to secret national security
- If those orders covered just email addresses or further information
White House spokesman Jay Carney said US surveillance agencies were only interested in collecting data on people considered a threat to the United States.
Mr Carney told a regular White House news conference:
To the extent data is collected by the NSA [National Security Agency] through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets, and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans.
British intelligence agency GCHQ "would not confirm of deny the existence of the Squeaky Dolphin" monitoring programme, according to NBC News.
A spokesperson for the agency said GCHQ's work was "carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework”.
This "ensure[s] that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee", the spokesperson added.
The "Squeaky Dolphin" monitoring programme said to have been utilised by British intelligence agencies was not intended to spy on individuals, but it could be done, cyber-security experts told NBC News.
The experts claimed the documents released by Edward Snowden show GCHQ had to have been either physically able to tap the cables carrying the world’s internet traffic or able to use a third party to gain physical access to the massive stream of data.
Once the information has been gathered, intelligence agencies have the ability to extract some user information as well, they added.
US and British intelligence agencies have plotted ways to gather data from Angry Birds and other smartphone apps that "leak" users' personal information onto global networks, the Guardian reported, citing documents obtained from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), had tried to exploit "leaky" smartphone apps that could disclose users' locations, age, gender and other personal information, according to the newspaper.
British intelligence agencies have the capacity to monitor social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube by tapping into the cables carrying the world's internet traffic, according to documents obtained by NBC News.
The documents, reportedly taken from the US National Security Agency by whistleblower Edward Snowden, show British spies demonstrated a pilot programme to their US counterparts in 2012.
The programme, called "Squeaky Dolphin", was able to monitor YouTube in real time, collect addresses and some other user information.
According to the “Psychology A New Kind of SIGDEV [Signals Development] presentation, the Government was also able to take part in “broad real-time monitoring of online activity” of URLs “liked” on Facebook, Blogspot/Blogger visits and Twitter.