Several media outlets, including the Associated Press and the New York Times, are reporting today that the NSA is spying on online gamers around the globe. The AP report says both the NSA, and its British counterpart, the GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters], have been sending undercover agents into virtual worlds to monitor activity in online fantasy games such as "World of Warcraft."
The reports say the spy agencies have been infiltrating popular online games for years. This new revelation comes about as a result of more documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor. Games such as "World of Warcraft," "Second Life," and many wildly popular titles hosted by Microsoft's XBox have been the focus of ongoing surveillance by the agencies.
The NSA and GCHQ say they have serious concerns that such virtual worlds provide good cover for terrorists who could use in-game messaging systems to share information. In one of the documents released by Snowden, the NSA warned that the games could give intelligence targets a place to "hide in plain sight."
The 82-page-document, published this morning on The New York Times' website, also says that terrorist groups could use online video games as a recruitment tool and for virtual weapons training. The document also says that at one time there were so many U.S. spies in Linden Labs' "Second Life" that a special "deconfliction" unit was established to ensure they did not interfere with one another.
The AP says that so far Blizzard Activision Inc., the company that created "World of Warcraft," Linden Labs, or Microsoft Inc. have not returned messages asking for them to comment on the new revelations, however the New York Times quoted an anonymous spokesman for Blizzard as saying that any surveillance by the NSA or GCHQ "would have been done without our knowledge or permission."