Did Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the 18-year-old who shot eight people at his high school in Tuusula, Finland, last Wednesday, communicate via MySpace with Dillon Cossey, the 14-year-old who was arrested on October 10 while planning a killing spree at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Pennsylvania? Finnish authorities think it’s possible that the two made contact through “RIP Eric and Dylan,” a MySpace page dedicated to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Authorities in Pennsylvania, however, describe the possibility of a connection as “sketchy.”
Whatever the case may be, the fact that such a resource exists for would-be school shooters to congregate online certainly is intriguing–and, I would argue, very relevant. Two thoughts come immediately to mind:
1. The Columbine incident may have taken place less than a decade ago, but there’s no doubt that it belongs to an earlier historical era.
2. One of the most pressing issues of the current era relates to the procedures for–and limits to–tracking potential threats to public safety.
How should the authorities (whether working with Homeland Security or state/local police departments) monitor the Dillon Cosseys in our midst? What right do the police have to eavesdrop on Cossey’s correspondence on the “RIP Eric and Dylan” page on MySpace without a warrant? Or to monitor his correspondence with Auvinen, whether on MySpace or elsewhere? At what point does a statement made in an online chatroom constitute criminal intent?
It seems to me that these questions are very much of the moment, and that the answers are somewhat up for grabs. I would want to consult a legal expert to see if my thinking is on track or off base here, but my hunch is that the new “flexibility” authorities have claimed in order to pursue the “war on terror” could, if unchecked, become applicable to a broader category of suspects. Perhaps it is quietly happening already.