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Security and Surveillance in Virtual Worlds: Who Is Watching the Warlocks and Why?

International Political Sociology

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Virtual worlds, persistent online spaces of social interaction and emergent gameplay, have hitherto been neglected in International Studies. Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden in December 2013 suggest that intelligence agencies, including the US National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have been less reticent in exploring and exploiting these environments for signals and human intelligence. This article introduces virtual worlds as sociological sites in the matrix of international politics and explores how the intelligence community (IC) has conducted operations in these environments, principally for counterterrorism purposes. Reconstructing the activities of the IC shows how virtual worlds have been drawn into the ambit of state surveillance practices, particularly as a means to generate intelligence from virtual‐world behaviors that correlate with, and predict, “real‐world” behaviors indicative of terrorism and other subversive activities. These intelligence activities portend a general colonization by the state of previously unregulated interstices of the sociotechnical Internet and their analysis contributes to our understanding of the relationship between government and the Internet in the early twenty‐first century.