Blizzard Helps Police Nab WoW-Playing Fugitive


Alfred Hightower's World of Warcraft Character

After more than two years of eluding authorities, fugitive Alfred Hightower was caught last month in Canada. His slip-up after two years on the lamb

Playing World of Warcraft.

According to a report by the Kokomo Perspective, Hightower, who was wanted for distributing marijuana and other drugs, fled the United States in 2007. Indiana deputy Matt Roberson, of the Howard County Sheriff’s Department, learned that Hightower had supposedly left for Canada, and that he played “some warlock and witches game.”

Roberson immediately thought of World of Warcraft. “I used to play it,” he said. “It’s one of the largest online games in the world.”

World of Warcraft lives up to that claim entirely. The game, which sports an impressive 14 million online players (and then some), is a product of Blizzard Entertainment, the California developer of games Diablo II and Starcraft. Roberson took what action he could: he sent a subpoena to Blizzard.

The subpoena went unanswered for four months, said Roberson. “They [didn’t] have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption they wouldn’t.”

Then, Blizzard suddenly complied, sending Roberson Hightower’s IP address, billing address, and account history. They effectively gave Roberson everything he needed to track Hightower down. Needless to say, Roberson got his man.


Blizzard Entertianment developed World of Wacraft.

Discussion over the arrest has popped up on multiple websites, including the official World of Warcraft forums. Some have made Big Brother jokes, while others have ominously signed their posts: “Blizzard is watching…” Many gamers, it seems, aren’t comfortable with Blizzard giving out their information.

Others, though, don’t seem too worried. A large number of posters point out that if you aren’t doing anything illegal, you don’t have anything to worry about. One poster referenced Blizzard’s Terms of Use (Article 17, Section C ), which states, “ Blizzard may, with or without notice to you, disclose your Internet Protocol … personal information, Chat logs, and other information about you and your activities… in response to a request by law enforcement [or] a court order or other legal process.”

Looks like Hightower should have read the fine print.

The case is reminiscent of the allegations against Yahoo in 2005 and 2006, when the company supposedly gave the Chinese government information on political dissidents, information the government used to carry about their capture and imprisonment. Granted, drug dealing and political dissidence belong in two very different camps, but the feeling from both cases is the same. The Internet is not the safe haven some think it to be.

While the arrest is unlikely to affect World of Warcraft subscriptions in any notable way, it may change the way users view the digital world, if not the entire internet. The fact that even regular chats are saved by Blizzard, in case they’re ever requested by the proper authorities, warrants some caution.

If nothing else comes from this case, more people will at least be clued in to what, exactly, they agreed to when they checked the box and accepted Blizzard’s Terms of Use.

Watch your mouth, kiddies. Big Blizzard is watching you.

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Written by Robert L.

One comment

  1. WoW! Don’t you find this article inspiring? Who would ever thought that this fugitive will be caught through World of Warcraft? Nice job for Roberson and Blizzard’s cooperation on this case.

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