Nobody is particularly surprised, but it’s nice to have it out in the open – it’s official: sl has been infiltrated by the NSA and GCHQ, who are having a wild old time logging our conversations, spying on our inworld activities and generally poking their noses into our virtual business – the Guardian says so… it must be true!
Quite what these venerable organisations expect to learn from all this covert virtual activity is a vexed question. Indeed, i pity the poor pleb from Cheltenham’s finest who’s been assigned to monitor my second life, since most of it barely makes sense to me, let alone to an outsider trying to piece together any intrigue or subversive activities that i may, or may not, have been getting up to. Knowing the sort of company i tend to keep, and the – frankly bizarre – conversations that i’m generally involved in, i’d challenge any psychiatrist worth their salt to come up with any rational interpretation of exactly what’s going on in my virtual life, let alone some jumped-up government hack who happens to be listening in without my permission. It’s not all bad though, whoever has had that particularly mind-boggling task will have by now developed a quite outstanding knowledge of 70’s/80’s popular British TV programmes and be able to discourse at length over the differences between ska and reggae music, all of which will no doubt be of inestimable use to MI5 and the CIA.
The, somewhat predictable, excuse for all this snooping is, inevitably, covered by the catch-all term ‘anti-terrorism measures’. Yes folks, in the minds of those who govern and protect us, platforms like sl, WoW and – for all i know – Angry Birds, are festering breeding grounds for terrorist activities.
C’mon guys, think it through: do you really think we believe that old chestnut, which gets trotted out at the drop of a hat to justify any illegal, immoral or ill-conceived government activity, on the basis that it’s necessary for national security? It seems that these days you can do just about anything you like, as long as you clothe it with the veneer of ‘protecting national interests’… whether it’s invading other countries, listening in to our telephone conversations, reading our emails or logging our sl chat.
It’s not just ill-conceived, it’s bonkers – sl is the last place that Al Qaeda are going to consider when it comes to recruitment, planning or training – it just doesn’t work that way! When you consider that Islamic doctrine discourages the depiction of people, or indeed animals, in any figurative way – and bearing in mind that the Taliban banned expressions of the human form, such as photographs, as ‘idolatrous’ – can you seriously imagine any Islamic fundamentalist organisation encouraging members to create their own avatars and imbue them with human characteristics? Even the word ‘avatar’ can be considered an abomination, when you consider it’s derived from the Sanskrit for ‘incarnation’ – literally the human form of a heavenly deity. Somehow, i can’t see that sort of thing appealing to the sort of people the NSA and GCHQ say they are hounding.
It strikes me as equally nonsensical that sl might be used as some sort of training camp for insurrectionists when a) there are far more suitable virtual environments out there, (you could even set up a dedicated Sim on a Stick, with access limited to your conscripts), and b) there’s a far more suitable real world environment to train in, with real obstacles, real weather, real time and real bullets. As for recruitment, sl has it’s own recruitment problems anyway – i really can’t see anyone taking it seriously as a fertile ground for new sign-ups. Can you imagine a terror-friendly Welcome Island? – Freebies, starter homes, tutorials and why not join our noob-friendly terror cell? (Free terrorist AO for group members).
In simple terms, sl is probably one of the least suitable, most inconvenient environments for terrorism to thrive that you could possibly imagine – any Talibanite will tell you Skype is a whole lot more convenient and reliable, any day.
So why is the government poking its nose into sl? Simple: because it can. If you have the means to snoop, you’re going to snoop. It’s no different from camming into people half a sim away, sticking a visitor counter on your land or de-rendering people’s prim skirts… we have the technology, we will be intruding with it. If you had the power and the technology to peer into other people’s lives without their knowledge, wouldn’t you do it too? (Be honest!).
It’s the ‘without their knowledge’ bit that’s disturbing though – at least, if we know we’re being spied upon, and the means by which it’s being done, we have the option – although it may not be a convenient one – of opting out. If we don’t like adservers and web-beacons spying on us, we can block them; we can disable cookies; we can hide behind proxies, anonymous IPs and only use public WiFi; ultimately, if we’re that paranoid, or have enough that we want to hide, we can divorce ourselves from the internet completely, although there won’t be many willing to go that far. The alternative is just to accept it, grin and bear it, and generate enough bluff and nonsense in our sl dealings that the security services will spend the next ten years trying to work out exactly what it is that we’re prattling on about!
In the meantime, i have developed the patented Haven Foil Hat – essential protection against prying electronic surveillance, alien abduction and hailstones, and the Haven Ultimate Spy Detector – let me know if you’d like one. 🙂
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you.
UB40 – Every Breath You Take