If the National Security Agency is right, terrorists are everywhere, even in video games such as World of Warcraft. The the agency has been spying on World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Xbox Live since 2008 in order to find terrorists which are hiding "in plain sight," according to newly released documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The documents have shown that the NSA, GCHQ (the NSA's British counterpart), CIA, and FBI have all used their agents to infiltrate online games to find terrorists. Although this program has grown since 2008, Blizzard Entertainment has already confirmed that it never agreed to allow the NSA to spy on World of Warcraft players.
Bad For Privacy, Or Effective?
In all of the original and follow-up documents leaked by Snowden today, it does not appear that the NSA was actually able to stop any terrorists from executing or planning attacks. If this is true, it appears that the agency has simply spied on gamers for at least five years without even asking for permission from the games' creators to do so.
As usual, the GCHQ has not confirmed or denied these in-game missions but it did state that all of its programs conform to the applicable laws. "All GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that its activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and committee."
The NSA originally started the program in 2008 with the intention of finding terrorists who could "hide in plain sight" among the thousands of other World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Xbox Live gamers. Upon hearing this, gamers provided their opinions in the form of snarky comments such as ""Keeping us safe, one gnome at a time" and "The NSA are spying because of the Darkspear Trolls."
With numerous documents stating that at best, the agency had only found potential Al-Qaeda operatives playing within the games, it does not appear as though the five years of in-game spying has paid off in any significant way.
Without actually hacking into the games, the NSA's in-game surveillance seems to follow all applicable laws. That being said, by not informing the game's creators, the NSA is continuing to step on toes in a way that is only going to continue to create more enemies for the agency, something that it has already done with Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google.
One of Blizzard Entertainment's producers has already confirmed that if the programs were carried out, Blizzard was never informed about the NSA's intentions. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission." said one California-based producer.
Not only have agents from the NSA taken to online video games in order to find terrorists, but the same documents reveal cooperation from the FBI and CIA. One of the more interesting aspects of the program is that it may have been brought up as a possibility by a former chief operating officer of Second Life.
In 2007, the COO gave a "brown-bag lunch" at one of the NSA's offices addressing the potential for terrorists to use the game as a meeting place to either plan out attacks or transfer money. Only a year after this talk was given, the agency was already working on infiltrating the games in search of terrorists.