Online games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life can be a fun and engrossing experience for gamers. The U.S. government also believed they could be used by potential terrorists in unscrupulous ways, if a leaked document published in 2008 from the National Security Agency is any indication.
Titled "Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments", the internal document presents the issue that "it is highly likely that they [terrorists] will be making wide use of the many communications features offered by Games and Virtual Environments (GVE) by 2010. The SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] Enterprise needs to begin taking action now to plan for collection, processing, presentation, and analysis of these communications."
At the time of this document, preliminary efforts to monitor games for terrorist activity were already underway. The United Kingdom Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had a "vigorous effort to exploit GVEs and has produced explotiation modules in XboxLive! and World of Warcraft", while the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Human Intelligence groups all had human intelligence operations in Second Life and other unspecified GVEs. There is no mention in the document of whether these efforts were successful in countering terrorism.
The document outlines how terrorists could use GVEs for their own agendas, but also noted that "GVEs are an opportunity! We can use games for: CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] exploits, social network analysis, HUMINT [Human Intelligence] targeting, ID tracking (photos, doc IDs), shaping activities, geo-location of target, and collection of comms [communications]."
Microsoft (Xbox Live) and Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft) released official statements after the leaked document was first published.
"We're not aware of any surveillance activity. If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn't done with our consent," a spokesperson for Microsoft said.
"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission," a Blizzard Entertainment representative said.