By: Matthew Knopf
Introduction:Â On December 9, 2013, the British Newspaper The Guardian published documents fromÂ the National Security Administration (â€œNSA documentsâ€) provided by the whistleblower EdwardÂ Snowden. These documents revealed that surveillance agencies of the United States and UnitedÂ Kingdom governments were conducting intelligence operations in a search for terrorists inside ofÂ massive multiplayer online (â€œMMOâ€) video games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life.Â The documents contained a memo and a series of essays that detailed the ways in which videoÂ games, even those video games that do not directly connect to the Internet, could be used asÂ recruitment and communication tools for terrorists. However, these operations have broughtÂ about privacy concerns for some who worry that their government could or would listen to theirÂ conversations as they are playing these videos games. It is not clear how the governmentÂ collected or accessed the data or communication from these video games. It is likely thatÂ government agents created their own profiles and avatars in these games to access the virtualÂ worlds. Additionally, privacy concerns have not be assuaged by the fact that there is noÂ indication from the documents that any of the intelligence operations led to the foiling of anyÂ terrorist plots or to the arrest of any criminal. The National Security Administration (â€œNSAâ€)Â and the federal government may have free reign to spy on foreign peoples and foreignÂ governments, but under the U.S. Constitution it does not have the legal authority to spy onÂ American citizens without a warrant.
Online video games have players who live across the globe and within the United States.Â Many of the computer servers on which the video games operate and communicate are inside ofÂ the United States. Since the intelligence collecting process has not been revealed, it is unclear ifÂ the NSA or other federal agencies have been accessing the data and the monitoringÂ communications of innocent Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealedÂ behind their virtual avatar. The debate over the expectation of privacy concerning different types of Internet communication is growing, especially concerning social media. Violations ofÂ privacy could hinder player anonymity, which is a key component of certain types of onlineÂ gaming that encourages escapism. On the other hand, ending anonymity could encourage fairerÂ and more civil discourse in the virtual gaming worlds. The revelations of these documents hasÂ led to the question of whether there are any expectations of privacy for video game players andÂ the communications between players which occur within those video games.