Report: Declassified Documents Show American and British Spy Agencies Targeted Xbox Live, Second Life, and World of Warcraft

According to a lengthy report co-published by Pro Publica and the New York Times, American and British spy agencies have infiltrated World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and collecting data in the games played by millions of people around the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents. Agents supposedly created characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, and collected data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.

The documents do not show any counter-terrorism successes from the effort, and former "American intelligence officials, current and former gaming company employees and outside experts said in interviews that they knew of little evidence that terrorist groups viewed the games as havens to communicate and plot operations," according to Pro Publica. The spy agencies have also been looking into Xbox Live activity, though the details on that are pretty thin.

Blizzard tells the New York Times and Pro Publica that, if spy agencies are tracking players and collecting data in World of Warcraft, they are doing it without permission or the company's knowledge.

"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," said a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, based in Irvine, Calif., which makes World of Warcraft. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."

A spokeswoman for Microsoft declined to comment. Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life and a former chief executive officer of Linden Lab, declined to comment on the spying revelations. Current Linden executives did not respond to requests for comment.

Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution and author of "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know," thinks the effort is a waste of time because there are more efficient ways than games to communicate and plan online.

"[Games] "are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked," he said "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."

Pro Publica has an extensive report on the subject here. The report comes as no surprise to anyone already concerned about Microsoft's role in the NSA's snooping of other services like Skype and Outlook.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. 0
    Atrayo says:

    Hello E. Zachary Knight,

    Yes, the Constitution is the legal skeletal framework of this country, if not our bedrock. Aside from the maze its become to actually observe some of its idealistic rationale into an effective practice. Not to sound like a conspiracy crackpot but your speaking in "White World" terms. This spying regime is "Gray World", where "Black World" has been attempted to be explained to the hilt in our popular fiction.

    "Gray World", is in a murky soup of legalese Immunity, exceptions from our daily grind in so-called "White World" of transparency and accountability. Power in the hands of the few who wield it, and all the rest that know about it, but look the other way. Since its Taboo to go against the Command Structure Grain. Especially if your part of the thousands employed in the Intelligence sector that has been out sourced in America.

    Everybody else is a dollar short and a day late until what remains of our free press informs us. I'm not saying it can't be changed, nor that it shouldn't be changed. Since this over reach of a NSA governmental dragnet has gone to far ala feature creep for too long. If not the American or our Allied populace demand it, than surely the Corporations caught with their pants down on the topic. Will force the issue with the Federal government until some back room deal is reached on their end.

  2. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    I would say that overstepping the bounds of the Constitution is the very definition of illegal. The Constitution protects the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches without warrants. The current spying regime does not adhere to that. The Constitution also demands proper checks and balances between the branches of the government. That does not exist in the current spying regime. 

    Now, I do agree that it is the fault of the people that such abuses are occurring and I have been doing what i can to influence change. But too many people are either blind or complacent to really change much. What does it say about use when Congress has a sub 10% approval rating and a 90+% reelection rate?

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  3. 0
    black manta says:

    Edward Snowden just can't stop ruining things for the rest of us, can he?

    Like Bill Maher said, "Nothing illegal happened there.  It's only a scandal if you think every branch of government is completely failing and can't be trusted.  And in a democracy, whose fault is that, really?"

  4. 0
    Atrayo says:

    Hi There,

    The thing is these MMO games especially could be used to funnel dirty money via the Farmers underground Black Market. If not other game's like that Swedish one "Entropia Universe" with reversible currency. Can be used for money laundering by illicit groups. Terror organizations abroad have used criminal vice operations to fund their ideological campaigns.

    Technically its possible, how probable depends and of course these operations aren't about transparency.

  5. 0
    Infophile says:

    Okay, I'm really starting to wonder if this is truly an effort to gather counter-terrorism info or an excuse to play WoW on company time. "Hey, I have to raid twelve hours a week or they might get suspicious of me!"

  6. 0
    GrimCW says:

    I'd like to take this moment to just say


    Is that a surprise to anyone? They've been watching things as far back at least as Everquest 1.

    Edit: typos… I gotta get coffee in me FIRST, then post…

Leave a Reply