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FBI pulled PlayStation 4 data to break up an alleged cocaine ring

Law enforcement regularly requests data on console users when they break the law

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A recent case in Missouri involving an alleged cocaine dealer has brought to light an often overlooked aspect of video game console ownership. Crimes orchestrated using chat services on a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or even a Nintendo Switch are still crimes, and records of those criminal activities can be used against you.

The most recent case, uncovered by Vice’s Motherboard, focuses on one Curtis “Dola” Alexander. In a search warrant filed on Oct. 22, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations stated that Alexander was allegedly involved in a “multi-kilogram level” cocaine deal. As the narrative goes, an FBI source reportedly requested nine ounces of cocaine via the PS4 messaging client. Curtis, believing that in-game voice communication was more secure than text chat, asked that the transaction continue “during game.”

What’s interesting about this particular warrant, which was approved by a judge in the Western District of Missouri, is the type of information that FBI agents expect to be able to receive from Sony:

The information that is automatically collected by Sony includes [...] Networked connected software data, such as application utilization, game play, game or system video and audio, progress, utilization, performance, peripheral and device use, services requested an used, or content downloaded and viewed.

It’s reasonable to assume that the FBI will use that information to determine which games Curtis was playing, and secure additional evidence of the in-game portion of the drug deal.

This isn’t the first time that law enforcement has requested records from console developers. A piece from 2012 by Ars Technica goes into great detail on the methods employed to find evidence of criminal activity on the Xbox Live platform. Agencies have also utilized so-called National Security Letters, which request similar information in secret and prevent companies from revealing to users that their data is being investigated.

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