Responding to the US intelligence community's plans to start monitoring behaviour in MMOs, an expert has rubbished the idea that virtual worlds represent a terrorist threat - adding that such monitoring would be unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy.
Writing at Salon.com Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, said: "Any monitoring by law enforcement of innocuous activity and communication in a virtual world, conducted broadly and without oversight, would be unconstitutional and could invade the privacy of millions of persons."
Cole also expressed scepticism that virtual worlds and MMO games could be remotely useful to subversives as recruitment, training or money-laundering devices.
"The notion that wandering around such an imaginary world with a computerised body is dangerous to anyone seems itself cartoonish and calls into question the public hand-wringing by security experts," he said.
He feels that virtual banks and recruitment networks are no substitute for the real thing. "The institutional frameworks are to date so unreliable that terrorists likely could not count on a money-launderer. If the July 7, 2005, bombers of the London Underground could so easily be recruited in a gym in Leeds, why go to all the trouble of creating an avatar?"
"Even the Internet war-game sites - which include World of Warcraft - would probably just make most terrorists overweight and addicted to the Internet," he said.
We're not entirely convinced that the addictive nature of WOW would so easily overcome the idealistic fervour of jihadists. But it's probably a close-run thing.