Technology and the Law: Woman Violates Restraining Order via Pinterest

A Beverly, Mass., woman using Pinterest to violate a restraining order and harass her estranged daughter is the latest example of how the law is struggling to keep up with technology and social media.

It’s a place where most users post images of their favorite wedding dresses, a recipe that they want to try or inspirational quotes — often shared between mothers and daughters.

But police say a Beverly, Mass., woman used a Pinterest account to violate a restraining order and harass her estranged daughter last year.

It’s just the latest example of how the law is struggling to keep up with technology and social media.

Last December, a Beverly man, Thomas Gagnon, was arrested and charged with violating a restraining order after his ex-girlfriend received a Google Plus invitation, purportedly from him.

It turns out he’s not the only North Shore resident so accused.

When Rebecca Shaw’s daughter received an email last June announcing that Shaw was now “following” her Pinterest page, she went to police, who arrested Shaw, 56, on a charge of violating a domestic restraining order. She was set to stand trial last week, but the case was postponed because of the snowstorm.

Shaw and her attorney argue that there is no proof that Shaw is the person who actually created the account in her name that was used to peek at the daughter’s page. They are trying to prevent prosecutors from using the email, and the page purportedly created by Shaw, which was filled with disparaging comments about Shaw’s daughter and others, when the case goes to trial.

“Anyone who knows both of them could have created this site,” argued lawyer Susan Costa.

Even if the page did belong to Shaw, her lawyer believes, it is not a violation of the restraining order, because the email to the daughter was generated by Pinterest, not their client.

But prosecutors believe she was behind the page, pointing to details that were incorporated in Shaw’s own page and her past history of violating orders. They say she knew her daughter would see it as well as the email.

“This is not only, ‘I’m watching you, but I’m telling you I’m watching you,’” prosecutor Alex Grimes said during a hearing last week. “This is a method for her to skirt the restraining order, to play with and taunt the victim.”

Judge Robert Brennan questioned whether the situation is akin to a person who is the subject of a 100-foot restraining order standing 120 feet away.

Grimes suggested that if that scenario happened more than once, then it might just be a violation.

The judge then compared the situation to a star athlete being hounded by an obsessed fan until the celebrity obtains a restraining order. Is the fan now barred from even reading about the athlete on the sports page of the newspaper?

But Grimes argued that social media is different from traditional media because there is a way to communicate directly with someone.

Costa said her client didn’t. She also argued that without “authentication” of the page attributed to her client, there is no case.

Grimes said he believes that the daughter can authenticate the page through testimony.

The judge said he would like to know what process, if any, Pinterest uses to confirm a user’s identity, comparing it to his use of a Google mail account to set up a court calendar and the limited information he needed to provide for that.

Brennan said he would hold another hearing on the issue before the new trial date of April 22.

Shaw, of 3 Access Road, Beverly, has had prior charges of restraining order violations lodged against her, something Grimes suggested would give credence to her daughter’s allegation of a new violation.

Meanwhile, Gagnon’s attorney, Neil Hourihan, says his client has no idea how the invitation got sent but believes it was done automatically by Google.

Gagnon’s case received national coverage after computer privacy advocates cited it as an example of a worst-case scenario of how information gathered by companies like Google can be used in ways no user expects — in Gagnon’s case, to allegedly generate an invitation to his ex.

That case is still pending.

©2014 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)