Security and Surveillance in Virtual Worlds: Who Is Watching the Warlocks and Why?
Stevens, T., 'Security and Surveillance in Virtual Worlds: Who Is Watching the Warlocks and Why?', International Political Sociology Vol. 9, No. 3., September 2015, pp. 230-47.
34 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2015 Last revised: 15 Apr 2016
Date Written: June 30, 2015
Virtual worlds, persistent online spaces of social interaction and emergent game-play, have hitherto been neglected in international studies. Documents disclosed by Edward Snowden in December 2013 suggest that intelligence agencies, including the National Security and GCHQ, have not been so reticent in exploring and exploiting these environments, specifically for gathering 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 counter-terrorism 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 behaviours that correlate with and predict ‘real-world’ behaviours indicative of terrorism and other subversive activities. As such, the articulations of the IC with virtual worlds express the anticipatory and pre-emptive logics of state security and surveillance. These intelligence activities portend a general colonisation 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 21st century.
Keywords: terrorism, counterterrorism, virtual worlds, internet, security, surveillance
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