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Police could look online using anti-terrorism tactics to find future shooters

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Police are examining tactics similar to current anti-terrorism measures to find potential killers online before they strike. The New York Times reports that New York Police Department officials held a meeting Thursday to determine whether they could use algorithms and searches to identify people who could be planning mass shootings. "The techniques would include cyber-searches of language that mass-casualty shooters have used in emails and Internet postings," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "The goal would be to identify the shooter in cyberspace, engage him there and intervene, possibly using an undercover to get close, and take him into custody or otherwise disrupt his plans." Police would identify terms used by perpetrators of past shootings, then use them to sweep the internet.

Kelly compared the idea to how anti-terrorism forces currently monitor forums or other areas online to spot communication from potential terrorists, saying it would target "apolitical or deranged killers" instead of politically motivated ones. Forum or social media postings from people who would later attempt or commit shootings have sometimes been seen as clues or cries for help, and it's not surprising police are trying to use them to preempt tragedy. In the case of anti-terrorism efforts, however, any benefits have also come with ongoing warrantless surveillance and an expansion of how long records can be stored to find future crimes.