GCHQ’s pornographic Yahoo! hack: A disturbing realisation too far?

The case of GCHQ's infiltration of Yahoo! webcams, as revealed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden, is an intriguing one. With a touch of amusement I read how the organisation's research documents identified sexual content as a "hindrance" to the spy agency's ends of exploiting video data, and how "unfortunately ... a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person."

While it might be a headline-writer's dream, this story is also connected with wider fears of internet spying, where the state takes on the role of a 1984-like regime - but it's the sexual element that has really set this story apart.

For me, the threat of a sexually explicit image of myself appearing online is far more unnerving than a couple of 00 agents sifting through webcam conversations with cousins across the world. Although it's uncertain why a GCHQ analyst would save a screenshot of my naked body, the potential that it could leak on to the wider web is unsettling.

The revelation that between 3 and 11 per cent of images collected by GCHQ contained "undesirable nudity" throws up aqll kinds of questions.

Most of what goes on behind closed doors in the "real world" generally goes without the threat of surveillance, and is unlikely to get caught up in espionage. However, the lines surrounding online communications have become increasingly blurred.

Will the latest in a long line of revelations finally kickstart the seemingly stalled debate on privacy in the two Houses of Parliament?

Regardless of the prying, of which a furious Yahoo! claimed to be wholly unaware, webcam footage presents unprecedented blackmail opportunities for the more morally challenged amongst the user base.

Codenamed "Optic Nerve", I suspect that news of GCHQ's operation will undoubtedly have touched a few of its namesake.

A very tiny proportion of internet users engage in terror activities, or what could be deemed "dangerous dissent", but many consume pornographic content, even if not directly exposed via webcam.

The possibility that images of us at our most vulnerable could be seen by prying eyes is a scary thought indeed.