I’ve been reading stories all day that suggest that the terrorists who killed over 120 people in Paris and left hundreds injured might have used a PlayStation 4 gaming console to plot and plan their crime.
The basis of these media stories appears to be that, firstly, a PlayStation 4 was reportedly seized from an address in Brussels raided by the authorities in the wake of the killings.
To which my immediate response was “big deal”. The PlayStation 4 is the best-selling video game console in the world. If you’re raiding the homes of young men in their twenties, don’t be surprised if they have a Sony PS4 stashed beneath their TV, as sold openly on the high street.
But that, of course, hasn’t stopped the inevitable hyperbolic headlines.
Yes, I suppose the terrorists might have used a PS4. After all, the system comes with Skype-like voice chatting, as well as a means to send messages to other members of the PlayStation Network or for communicating directly from within a myriad of games.
But similarly they might have used OTR (off-the-record) instant messaging on their PC, smartphone apps for secure encrypted phone calls, good old GPG-encrypted emails, or any manner of other ways to communicate without fear that law enforcement would be able to easily snoop on their plans.
The second reason that the media is breathlessly writing about the dangers introduced by the PlayStation 4 is that, just three days before the attacks, Jan Jambon, Belgium’s deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, spoke about the platform.
Jambon told Politico that international law enforcement found it difficult to snoop upon messages sent between PlayStation owners, and that it was “the most difficult communication between these terrorists”.
Some reports went on to quote Jambon as saying, “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp.”
The fact is that many devices can be used to communicate securely, with little or no fear of surveillance. There is always some way of communicating securely if you really want to - which underlines the daftness of governments who would seek to unravel privacy for all of us in the name of fighting terror wrought by a few.
Don’t believe me?
Anything which allows two people to exchange messages (whether it be by talking, typing, or waving semaphore flags at each other in a 3D virtual environment) could potentially be used by terrorists to communicate.
Two years ago, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that intelligence agencies in the United States and UK were sneaking onto “World of Warcraft” to snoop around on “persons of interest”.
I have umpteen chess apps on my phone which allow me to play folks online. Even if many of them didn’t come with their own instant-messaging facility, I could communicate with my fellow extremists by playing a pre-agreed opening, that they knew how to interpret.
Don’t love chess? Not a problem. Launch an online game like “Draw Something” and you’ll soon be doodling your orders for a terrorist attack to your partner in crime.
In summary, saying that a Sony PlayStation 4 was recovered from an address raided by police investigating the horrific events in Paris doesn’t really tell us anything in itself.
In fact, I feel it’s just as hard to read meaning into the statement as if we were to hear that smartphones or laptops were recovered. Any of these devices could have been used for secure communications, and - if so - those secure communications might have been related to planning a terrorist strike.
But it seems far too early to jump to any conclusions. The investigation should be allowed to continue properly, without the media attempting to second guess what might have happened, or politicians attempting to use the ghastly events as a pawn to promote their own anti-privacy agenda.
Relax gaming addicts - ownership of a PS4 is not, and never will be, a good indication that you are involved in terrorism.