Medical science has long known that the optic nerve runs from the retina of our eyeballs to the visual cortex of our brains, letting us see what’s going on around us.

Don’t look now, but another “optic nerve” has evolved. Rather than running to our brains, however, this one goes outward, allowing others to see us and also hear us having what we assume to be private — even intimate — conversations.

webcams are nsa's new optic nerve


Those “others” are the out-of-control security agencies in England and the United States that are secretly vacuuming up everyone’s communications, even if we’re not suspected of any illegalities.

The Brits took the lead in this latest visual intrusion, giving it the code name “Optic Nerve.” They are tapping into the “retinas” of basic Internet applications, such as Yahoo webcam chats, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Skype.

Millions of us have these services in our homes and offices, enabling us to have private video talks with someone or some group across town, or even around the world.

Now we learn, though, that we’re not alone – the spooks have hacked into the fiber optic networks of Yahoo (and probably others) to grab, view, listen to, and store millions of these personal communications.

Creepy? Yes, Orwellian-level creepy. As Yahoo put it: “[This] represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable.”

Lest you think the spies are only gathering info about terrorist plots, the British agency concedes that up to 11 percent of the Yahoo webcam images it has purloined contains sexually-explicit content.

One agent said of the mass window peeping, “a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person.”

How shocking! Not that people would do that, but that our government would be sneaking peeks at them.

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Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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