Edward Snowden’s latest leak, published by the Guardian, the New York Times, and ProPublica, reveals the startling breadth of the NSA and GCHQ’s international surveillance operations. In addition to the well-publicized monitoring of internet communications and cell phone metadata, the spy agencies were infiltrating video game networks like World of Warcraft and Xbox live.
Read the full, 82-page NSA document here.
The Guardian report paints a picture of an NSA that was eager to infiltrate gaming despite very little evidence that there was relevant information to be gleaned. Leaked NSA documents written speak of the “opportunity!” to be had in surveilling games, and of terrorists “[hiding] in plan sight” in games’ “target-rich communications network.”
The NSA was evidently monitoring in-game communications as well as voice and webcam feeds. It explicitly named games that might be cause for concern, including such unlikely candidates as Madden, Gran Turismo, and, uh, Nintendogs.
A few things stand out: one, that Second Life was more than happy to sell out its users to be spied on. That game’s Chief Operating Officer gave a talk to the NSA in 2007 in which he explained “the opportunity to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving US soil” through Second Life.
The other, that the operation was large enough that in-game agents accidentally spying on each other was a real concern. From the Guardian:
According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a “deconfliction” group was required to ensure they weren’t spying on, or interfering with, each other.
The Guardian reports that another concern of the NSA paper’s authors was “avoiding suspicion that their goal was merely to play computer games at work without getting fired.”