The government even has its eye on elves and orcs, according to the latest nugget of news from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. ProPublica, in partnership with the New York Times and the Guardian, reports that the U.S. intelligence community fears online games like World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Microsoft’s Xbox Live universe could serve as a “target-rich communication network” in which terrorists could “hide in plain sight.” So they’re out there in the digital realm, gaming for our safety.
The classified NSA documents detail all of the perceived intelligence benefits of monitoring video games, noting that World of Warcraft in particular turned up “accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing.” (Warcraft claims to be “unaware of any surveillance taking place.”)
Experts, meanwhile, are more skeptical there’s anything to be gained, as the games “are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked,” in the opinion of cyber-security expert Peter W. Singer, from the Brookings Institution. “For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar.”
Actual counterterrorism success is not noted in the documents, but according to the report, “so many CIA, FBI and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life, the document noted, that a ‘deconfliction’ group was needed to avoid collisions.”
The nerds can’t believe it:
In one World of Warcraft discussion thread, begun just days after the first Snowden revelations appeared in the news media in June, a human death knight with the user name “Crrassus” asked whether the N.S.A. might be reading game chat logs.
“If they ever read these forums,” wrote a goblin priest with the user name “Diaya,” “they would realize they were wasting” their time.
But that’s just what an Islamic extremist goblin priest would want them to think.