And quite successfully too, it seems.
By Tim Colwill on December 10, 2013 at 11:25 am
Edward Snowden’s leak of internal NSA files continues to reveal amazing amounts of surveillance, with multiple outlets today reporting that the National Security Agency maintained extensive and dedicated teams who monitored players in popular games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life, and on Xbox LIVE.
An NSA report written in 2008 and titled ‘Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments’ describes MMOs and other online networks as a “target-rich communications network” where the NSA’s enemies could “hide in plain sight”.
By May 2008, the NSA’s internal reporting on World of Warcraft showed that they had multiple targets believed to be linked to Islamic extremism and arms dealing, and that they believed targets included “telecom engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, the military and other intelligence agencies”.
Second Life was an even bigger target for intelligence agencies, with both the NSA, CIA, FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency all running ops within the game. There were so many agencies using Second Life that there was an actual need to establish communications with each other so that the multiple agencies did not double up on each other’s efforts.
By September of 2008, Britain’s GCHQ are noted in the NSA report as having been “successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live”.
It looks like these games may not all have been unwilling surveillance targets, too: in 2007, Second Life developer Linden Labs’ then-COO gave a so-called “brown bag lunch” at the NSA in which he described Second Life as giving “the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviours of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil”.
Linden Labs declined to comment on these new reports, as did Microsoft — but Blizzard have released a short statement to say that they “are unaware of any surveillance taking place.”
“If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission.”