A new report by the Guardian newspaper alleges that GCHQ and the NSA targeted online games and communities, including World of Warcraft and Xbox Live, as part of their anti-terrorism activity. This is the latest revelation from the dossiers leaked to the paper, by Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA employee.
According to the article, the spy agencies developed capabilities to collect data from Xbox live and have been going under cover as Orcs and Elves in WoW. The paper says, ‘There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games’ tech-friendly users.’
An NSA document from 2008, describes games communities and gaming guilds as the perfect cover for terrorists, who could ‘hide in plain sight’. It also highlighted the risk of not monitoring gaming communities with the Guardian quoting the document as describing games and virtual environments as a ‘target-rich communications network’.
However, the documents fail to show that the surveillance ever uncovered any terror groups or prevent any terrorist plots. Instead, the Guardian states, ‘The operations raise concerns about the privacy of gamers. It is unclear how the agencies accessed their data, or how many communications were collected. Nor is it clear how the NSA ensured that it was not monitoring innocent Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealed behind their virtual avatar.’
World of Warcraft developer, Blizzard told the Guardian, "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
It has been suggested that other games companies have been very cooperative, when it comes to allowing access to their gaming communities. Microsoft has so far declined to comment, as has Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life.