Big Brother and your game console

Last month I noted that researchers planned to use your game console to monitor and better understand your behavior patterns. Now it seems that Big Brother has even bigger plans. Foreign Policy reports:

Government researchers say that hacking into consoles will allow police to catch pedophiles and terrorists. Meanwhile, privacy advocates worry that gamers may leave sensitive data — and not just credit card information — on their Nintendos without knowing it.

. . .

The project, called the “Gaming Systems Monitoring and Analysis Project,” originated in 2008, when law enforcement authorities were concerned about pedophiles using video game consoles to find victims. “Today’s gaming systems are increasingly being used by criminals as a primary tool in exploiting children and, as a result, are being recovered by U.S. law enforcement organizations during court-authorized searches,” says Garfinkel, a computer forensics expert. Indeed, the FBI warns that pedophiles often use online gaming forums as their hunting grounds. However, “there is a suspicion” that terrorists are also using online games to communicate, says John Verrico, spokesman for DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate. While homeland security is the primary DHS mission, it also supports domestic law enforcement and first responders, Verrico says.

. . .

Monitoring gaming consoles is harder than you might think. Consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii encrypt their devices to prevent piracy and tampering. Indeed, the contract states that “analysis of the game systems requires specific knowledge of working with the hardware of embedded systems that have significant anti-tampering technology.” But this is more than hacking; the government wants tools that can apply computer forensics, which look for legally admissible evidence, to consoles.

. . .

Of course, what the government is interested in is not the game itself, but the platform — and the way you use it. Video game consoles have evolved beyond simple entertainment machines into powerful all-purpose devices that are used to watch movies, post on Facebook, or — more important to an FBI or CIA agent — chat with other players. “You wouldn’t intentionally store sensitive data on a console,” says Parker Higgins, a spokesman for the online privacy group, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). “But I can think of things like connection logs and conversation logs that are incidentally stored data. And it’s even more alarming because users might not know that the data is created.”

“These consoles are being used as general purpose computers,” Higgins adds. “And they’re used for all kinds of communications. The Xbox has a very active online community where people communicate. It stands to reason that you could get sensitive and private information stored on the console.”

Thing about it: Your Nintendo Wii might tell government investigators when you were connected to the Internet, who you were talking to, what you were saying, and what you were playing. “Taken in context, it could end up revealing more than you expect,” Higgins warns. There have already been hacks that could allow for spying on users of the Xbox Kinect, a video-enabled add-on that reads body movement for interactive gaming.

There’s more at the link.

I try very hard to maintain my privacy at a reasonable level . . . but when this sort of thing becomes not only commonplace, but legal, that seems to be a pipe-dream, doesn’t it? I don’t know whether to give a sigh of resignation, grit my teeth and growl, or beat my head against the nearest brick wall! It’s got to the point where we have to warn our kids that their activities while playing games might just lead to an unannounced electronic visit from Big Brother, trying to figure out what they’re doing, why, and with whom!


1 comment

  1. And as soon as "unsavory-type" people realize they can't have privacy when plotting via their game consoles, they'll migrate to MMORPG's, where anyone with $50, an email address and a game-time card can get access to the game world, where they can communicate to their heart's content with very little danger of being monitored.

    Of course, you can combat your game console being used against you if you only play games that don't require internet connectivity, and then just keep it disconnected from your network.

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