Homeland Security wants to hack your console

We know governments love to keep tabs on their citizens' emails and cellphone usage, but surely your Xbox or PlayStation is safe from prying eyes? Who in their right mind wants to keep an eye on you while you lay waste to virtual worlds? According to ForeignPolicy.org, the US government does.

At the behest of the Department of Homeland Security, the US Navy awarded $177,237 to a tiny computer forensics company called Obscure Technologies to develop "hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems." But why? Because today's video game consoles are connected to the Internet, and like all connected devices, they need to be monitored to 'protect the children.'

"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 Simson Garfinkel, a computer science expert at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). But it gets worse: Call of Duty is also apparently a favored stomping ground for dangerous terrorist groups.

John Verrico, a spokesman at the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate, says that there is a 'suspicion' that terror groups could be using video games to communicate.

And if you've ever traded in a console at a second hand store, there's a chance that your data could end up being harvested by Obscure Technologies. The Navy's contract also calls for "a collection of data (disk images; flash memory dumps; configuration settings) extracted from new video game systems and used game systems purchased on the secondary market."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is not amused. A spokesperson for the group says that users may unwittingly end up storing sensitive data on their consoles. "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." For example, your console might log when you connected to the Internet, and who you communicated with.

The good news is that US citizens are safe - the DHS is only interested in spying on foreign consoles, since the Privacy Act prevents them from spying on US citizens. Anyone else won't be so lucky.

So, is this another case of Big Brother gone too far, or is it an inevitability of these troubled times, a necessity for governments to keep their citizens safe? Or will it just end up setting off alarms and causing national terror alerts and wrongful arrests when an angry 12-year-old goes ballistic on Halo?

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