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US Congress holds hearing on 'Second Life' terrorism

23 April, 2008
By Allison Orr

The US Congress recently launched a hearing into virtual worlds, investigating the possibility that virtual worlds, such as Second Life, may be used to facilitate terrorism.  Democratic Representative Jane Harman, of California, cited a British newspaper report last year saying that Islamic extremists were suspected of using Second Life to recruit and mimic real-life terrorism.

Second Life has also created its own currency, the Linden dollar, which can be converted into US dollars.  One of the concerns raised is that Second Life could be used to launder funds by terrorists.

The chief executive of Linden Lab, Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, was called to testify, to reassure lawmakers that the online community is able to police itself, saying they have never seen any evidence that there is any illegal activity going on.  He also argued that it is unlikely that Second Life would be an attractive place for terrorists to plan since all user activity and transactions can be tracked by Linden Labs.

According to Rosedale, the average withdrawal from Linden dollars in US dollars is one dollar, so it would be easy to spot a larger transaction.  He also points out that the fraud rate on Second Life is a fraction of a percentage point, where as the industry standard is closer to 1 per cent.

The hearing was also attended by about 65 online avatars in Second Life, with a laptop in the hearing room running Second Life and projecting the virtual hearing room into a screen.  Included among the virtual community watching the hearing via Second Life were a goth character with wings (who occasionally flew around the room), a pink cat, a winged grasshopper and a naked man floating through the air.

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