Just when you thought that reports of governmental spying online had reached an apex of absurdity, reports emerge that the US NSA and UK GCHQ are monitoring online video games like "World of Warcraft." And they're not there looking for the easiest way to acquire Helm Hammerhand's mythical hammer. They're looking for terrorists.
According to yet another report in The Guardian, which has turned into NSA Daily in recent months, and related reports in the New York Times and elsewhere, secretive government spooks from the NSA and GCHQ have been donning virtual chain mail in order to inhabit online worlds alongside both geeks and potential terrorists, collecting chat transcripts and observing the live conversations. The reports indicate that the agencies have infiltrated Xbox Live and other gaming networks, which are "target-rich communications networks" where terrorist can potentially "hide in plain sight".
This isn't all that far-fetched. If anyone was planning a terrorist attack on Xbox Live, most legitimate players wouldn't even notice it above all the teen profanity, inane mumbling and singing, and background noises that plague the network.
Microsoft, of course, denies the claim.
"We're not aware of any surveillance activity," a Microsoft statement notes. "If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn't done with our consent."
Blizzard, which makes "World of Warcraft," issued a similar statement about its own online network. "We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," the nearly identical statement reads. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
The source of these reports is a bit dated, a 2008 NSA called "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments." This document doesn't reveal whether the agency thwarted any attacks while racking up Achievement points and virtual gold. But it does humorously suggest that some suspected Islamic extremists and arms dealers that frequented "World of Warcraft" were just "telecom engineers, embassy drivers, scientists, [or members of] the military and other intelligence agencies." I suspect most of them were slightly alienated kids in their parents' basements.
And if you just can't get enough of this stuff, the entire NSA document has been posted online. Enjoy.