The government is more concerned with the platforms rather than the games themselves, mainly because newer systems like Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 allow users to communicate with one another via messaging and chat systems
Gamers may want to be careful about what they say when jumping onto their consoles for an innocent bout of slaying dragons or killing zombies — the government will be watching.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Navy have launched a new research initiative that will explore ways of allowing the government to hack into gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, Wii, or PlayStation 3 to obtain information on gamers.
In 2008, a project called “Gaming Systems Monitoring and Analysis Project” was executed when law enforcement became worried about pedophiles using game consoles to talk to children. Later, law enforcement authorities went to DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate in search of help on an instrument that could observe game console data. DHS then went to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to find Simson Garfinkel, a NPS computer science professor, to offer a contract to a company that could conduct the research and offer a product.
The U.S. Navy ended up recently awarding the $177,237 contract to Obscure Technologies, which is a computer forensics company based in San Francisco, California. Obscure Technologies will be expected to create new hardware and software capable of extracting data from video game consoles. DHS wants to be able to extract data from both new and used games systems bought on the secondary market as well.
According to DHS, the reason for tapping into game consoles is to find pedophiles, who are using communication resources on game systems to seek out victims, and even terrorists, which DHS believes are using consoles to communicate.
“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,” said Garfinkel.
The government is more concerned with the platforms rather than the games themselves, mainly because newer systems like Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 allow users to communicate with one another via messaging and chat systems. This communication is what the government is mainly after.
This new contract has privacy groups wondering if this is just another way that the government can abuse citizens’ privacy.
“You wouldn’t intentionally store sensitive data on a console,” said Parker Higgins, a spokesman for the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), an online privacy group. “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. 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.”
It’s important to note that DHS doesn’t plan to hack into the game consoles of U.S. citizens because of privacy-related issues. DHS only plans to peek at consoles from overseas.
“This project requires the purchasing of used video game systems outside of the U.S. in a manner that is likely to result in their containing significant and sensitive information from previous users,” said Garfinkel. “We do not wish to work with data regarding U.S. persons due to Privacy Act considerations. If we find data on U.S. citizens in consoles purchased overseas, we remove the data from our corpus.”
The government isn’t the only one who has been problematic when it comes to citizen’s privacy. Earlier this week, it was discovered that law enforcement around the U.S. is using cell phone tracking regularly as a tool for the job — and sometimes the tracking is warrantless.