December 12, 2013
The National Security Agency and its UK sister agency GCHQ have been deploying real-life agents into fictional worlds like “World of Warcraft” and “Second Life,” collecting gamers’ chats and even attempting to recruit potential informants, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The agencies claimed that real-life terrorists might be playing and plotting within these games, suggesting that the gamer communities may provide intelligence on terrorist activity.
“The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” The Guardian reports, “stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a ‘target-rich communications network’ where intelligence targets could ‘hide in plain sight.’”
The games could be used as “a window for hacking attacks,” according to the article, as well as collecting information on users’ social networks and interactions — even obtaining their photos and specific locations.
But the activity brings up issues of gamers’ privacy. “Word of Warcraft” creators told The Guardian that neither the NSA nor GCHQ asked for permission to collect data from the game’s users. Microsoft, as well as the creators of “Second Life,” did not comment.
According to the article, the leaked documents “contain no indication that the surveillance ever foiled any terrorist plots, nor is there any clear evidence that terror groups were using the virtual communities to communicate as the intelligence agencies predicted.”
“Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service were all running human intelligence operations — undercover agents — within ‘Second Life,'” says The Guardian. “In fact, so crowded were the virtual worlds with staff from the different agencies, that there was a need to try to ‘deconflict’ their efforts — or, in other words, to make sure each agency wasn’t just duplicating what the others were doing.”