NSA Monitored Xbox Live Chats, Edward Snowden Leaks Tell: Report

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By Aditya Bhat | December 10, 2013 6:42 PM EST

Looks like rumours of NSA and its UK counterpart, GCHQ listening to gamers' private conversations on Xbox Live is true after all.

A newly leaked memo from the collection of whistleblower Edward Snowden, published by The Guardian, shows that these security agencies gained access to the private conversation of gamers and also listened to conversations in games like World of Warcraft.

These security agencies that are supposed to protect their citizens were reportedly involved in monitoring the conversations highlighting their new interest in online games. The report said that a memo dated September 2008 from the GCHQ noted that spy agencies had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live," Eurogamer reported.

The American spying agency, NSA had "deployed" real-life agents into games like Xbox Live console network, World of Warcraft and Second Life to monitor and extract more information on "buddylists and interaction."

 Online gaming is a big draw to millions of gamers worldwide, where players take different avatars to fight against other clans. Spying agencies are said to have thought there could be the possibility of a terrorist behind the mask of elves and others.

A NSA analyst wrote in one of the briefs that Games "are an opportunity!" The organisation believed, terrorist could "hide in plain sight" in these games. The document notes, "terrorists use online games - but perhaps not for their amusement. They are suspected of using them to communicate secretly and to transfer funds."

"Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and ... have been found associated with Xbox Live, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [games and virtual environments]. Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members," the document further added. However, there has been no evidence to support these arguments.

Such surveillance measures by NSA and others have not fetched any conclusive results in foiling a terrorist attack.

Microsoft and creators of Second Life declined to comment on the report. Blizzard however said that it was "unaware of any surveillance taking place. If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission".

NSA too declined to comment on such surveillance measure in place on video games. The GCHQ said that it could not "confirm or deny" the report and added that all its work is "carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that its activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the intelligence and security committee."

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