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New York mulls terrorist cell phone jamming

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New York Police officials are studying whether it's possible to disrupt cell phone communications among terrorists during an attack on the city following reports that gunmen in Mumbai used hand-held devices during a deadly rampage in November.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly discussed the possible tactic in Washington on Thursday during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. He said plans are still in the "discussion stage," and that any final plan would have to balance a variety of complex issues.

"Law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cell phones and other communications" during attacks, he said, according to The New York Times. "Our communications and technology people are looking for ways to disrupt cell phone and hand-held devices in a pinpointed way."

Among the prickly concerns officials are grappling with is the need for emergency personnel and civilians to make emergency calls during such a crisis. Law enforcement might also benefit from monitoring the communications of terrorists during an attack.

The police department's study comes two months after Islamic militants armed with automatic rifles and grenades besieged Mumbai for three days, killing 165 people and wounding 304. They used hand-held devices to coordinate attacks, order the killing of specific hostages and adjust tactics while their attack were under way.

Electronic jamming of cell phones is certainly possible, but it can usually be carried out only by blocking communications for a wide geographic area. That means the blocking of cell phone calls during an attack would also prevent large numbers of law-abiding citizens from communicating during a moment of crisis.

It would also do little to prevent the use of satellite phones. ®

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