The news that appeared on The The Guardian, NYTimes and Probublica earlier today from information gathered by whistleblower Edward Snowden reiterates that the NSA and GCHQ were accessing online games and any communication within some games to hunt terrorists .
The documents that date back to 2008, which is actually when this story first broke, state that the intelligence agencies were searching online games and communities such as World of Warcraft, Second Life and Xbox Live for terrorist activity.
When asked about player privacy and whether players were being monitored, a spokesperson from Blizzard added, “We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”
Neither the NSA or GCHQ would confirm the activity took place but GCHQ did make a short non-committal statement.
“All GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that its activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and security committee.”
The report however does include the following bold statement to justify the monitoring of activity on online games back in 2008 when this first came to light.
“Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with Xbox Live, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [games and virtual environments],” the document notes. “Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members.”
Government interest in online games and communities continues according to the New York times. A recent project at the Palo Alto Research Center, which involved MMO analyst Nick Yee, were asked to study World of Warcraft’s its player demographic and behaviour. Nick Yee says that they were “specifically asked not to speculate on the government’s motivations and goals.”
It’s unclear from the information released whether the security agencies deemed the monitoring a success but it very sounds unlikely. It’s all rather “spooky”.