A recent case in Missouri involving a suspected cocaine trader has brought to light an often-overlooked aspect of video game console ownership. Crimes that are staged using chat services on a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or even a Nintendo Switch are still crimes, and records of these criminal activities can be used against you.
The most recent case uncovered by Vice’s motherboard focuses on a Curtis “Dola” Alexander. In a search warrant filed on October 22, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations said that Alexander was allegedly involved in a kilogram cocaine deal. An FBI source reportedly requested nine ounces of cocaine through the PS4 messaging client. Curtis believed that the voice communication in the game was more secure than the text chat, and asked to continue the “during game” transaction.
The interesting thing about this special warrant, approved by a judge in the western district of Missouri, is the kind of information that FBI agents can expect from Sony:
Information automatically collected by Sony includes […] networked, related software data, such as: Application usage, gaming, video and audio for games or systems, progress, usage, performance, use of peripherals and devices, requested and used services. or downloaded and viewed content.
It is likely that the FBI will use this information to determine which games Curtis has played and to obtain additional evidence for the in-game portion of the drug deal.
This is not the first time that law enforcement is requesting records from console developers. An article by Ars Technica in 2012 explores in depth the methods that can be used to find evidence of criminal activity on the Xbox Live platform. The authorities have also used so-called National Security Briefs, which secretly interrogate similar information and prevent companies from informing users that their data is being investigated.