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NSA Hunting Terrorists and Leveling Paladins in Online Games

Updated Tue, Dec 10, 2013 by Martuk

Did you ever have that feeling that you’re being watched? And not just by the thousands of people watching you get ganked in a PvP match or wiped in a raid on Twitch, UStream, YouTube, or any other number of services. If so, chances are that you just might have been.

According to a recent article citing leaked document from Edward Snowden titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments” and obtained by British newspaper The Guardian and co-published with the New York Times, agents from the NSA, FBI, Pentagon, and England’s Government Communications Headquarters infiltrated online games such as World of Warcraft (WoW), Second Life, and others, including Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. The document referred to online gaming as a “target-rich communications network” where intelligence targets could “hide in plain sight.”

Spy-vs-Spy
It was just meant to be a parody, guys.

The document goes on to state the vast amount of intelligence that could be gathered by extracting communications from chat text, friends lists, and to build pictures of people’s social networks through their interactions. This was also expanded with the possibility of using game chat systems, cameras, and other identifiers as surveillance tools in building those profiles. However, according to The Guardian, those documents failed to mention any instances in which this prevented any sort of terror plot or offer any evidence that they were being used for terrorist communication to begin with.

The unnamed author of the article did note that one of the problems with this system was the possibility that agents may use it to simply play video games at work and not get fired, something that becomes all the more believable when you take into account that the same article further notes that so many agents were engaged in the spying operation at one point that a “deconfliction" group was needed to ensure that they weren’t spying on each other or interfering with their work.

WoW developer Blizzard Entertainment told The Guardian that the agencies never sought their permission for the endeavor.

"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment told The Guardian. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

Both Microsoft and Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life and former CEO of Linden Lab, initially declined to offer a comment on the issue. But since the story ran, Microsoft did offer a statement amazingly close to Blizzard's to CVG stating:

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

And now for knee-slapper - This new news, however, is actually somewhat old news. If you’ve followed our obsessive news postings and musings over the years then you may have seen something similar to this back in February 2008. At that time we reported on a story relating to a declassified document detailing the Data Mining Report Act, which resembles some of what has been covered in the recent Snowden document as part of a Congress-approved program over data-mining concerns. That full document is available here via Wired with the 2012 upated version available here.

The entire program has raised privacy concerns for many people, and it just as clearly shows how little privacy you really have when it comes to the Internet, and even gaming these days. It’s a keen example that when you plug up a camera or turn on a microphone, you never do know who is listening, something that is even more common in this age of Twitch streaming, YouTube videos, and leaked EVE alliance meetings. You can reveal more about yourself in a few Facebook posts than you realize.

That said, if the government really hopes to catch terrorists in online games, I think we've all been looked at by now. Anyone that’s ever played anything online has probably threatened to nuke a mob, shoot a guy, blow up a building, or hijack a plane. And almost everyone that has made such a threat has carried it out. Not because we’re psycho, but because it’s a game.

My point is this, if you agency types are looking to catch what you might consider “suspicious chatter” with this lot, good luck, guys. We call that PvP.

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times


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