By: Angelica Diaz

The constant change in technology not only effects technology itself, but its affects are seen everywhere, specifically in the realm of law.  From Protection orders to mere definitions, many law makers and legal professionals have had to incorporate technology in their practices and rules of law in order to fully protect individuals and fully grasp issues that are more and more frequently occurring via technology.  Specifically, thanks to technology, the term communication is one that has recently grown and although this expansion may be beneficial, it may also create a slippery slope.

A protection order is a civil proceeding issued by a judge to protect an individual from physical abuse.  Although civil at the commencement of the proceedings, if the order is violated, one may be subject to criminal charges.  An order is granted where an individual believes that he or she has been harmed or is in imminent danger of harm.  The belief of harm required for a protection order to be granted must be objective and not a passing subjective fear.  Along with a specific level of harm or fear of harm required, for one to be protected under this order, there must also be a domestic relationship.  A domestic relationship being familial relationship, and substantive or lengthy dating relationship.

Once a judge finds the requirements for a protection order have been met, a protection order will be issued for a particular length of time and set particular guidelines on what can and cannot be done and for what duration of time.  One particular instruction that is commonly used in a protection order is the prohibition of communication between the parties.  Communication defined as the expression or exchange of information, thoughts, or feelings.  An ongoing issue that surrounds the prohibition of communication in protection orders is in what forums is communication barred considering the constant advancement in technology.  Many courts have come to automatically include the instruction that communication includes that over the internet, but the bigger issue with communication via technology is that it becomes more than just words.  A recent case in New York has found that “tagging” on Facebook constitutes the violation of communication in a protection order.  This ruling was due to the notification that occurs to the other individual once they are “tagged” in another person’s post.

Although the ruling in this New York case creates a great advancement in the realm of protection orders and what constitutes communication, but how far are courts willing to take this ruling?  In a world where technology is prominent in our daily lives, communication no longer simply involves the exchange of words.  Due to apps such as Snap Chat and the use of emoji’s, communication now comes in the form of smiley faces, photographs, and videos.  Courts and law makers need to begin to consider broadening the term of communication to involve these forms of communication as they also directly affect protection orders and the people they are ordered to protect.

The major point in entertaining the idea of emoji’s, tagging, videos, and pictures is that these are now forms of communication and in the realm of protection orders which regularly prohibit communication, a clear definition of communication must be established.  As “tagging” was ruled to be communication, will sending a single emoji be next as satisfying communication?


Blogger Bio Angelica is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law.  She is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law with an area of focus in Juvenile and Family Law.  She holds a B.A. in Legal Studies from Bay Path University.

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