As concerns over digital privacy grow there has been much debate on the digital past-life of the now deceased. How does one access once private accounts well protected by users when alive but now dead? Until now, you would only have such access if you were a family member, friend, or government or law enforcement agency. Recently, a new law was passed in the State Legislature expanding access to e-mail and social media accounts in the digital domain.
Management of digital remains is a rapidly growing field. Unfortunately, Delaware has been the only state to pass the new law. Ironically, the first colony to become a state is a pioneering its efforts once again by becoming the first state to pass legislation on the access of digital domains by loved ones of the deceased. The newly passed law will allow the executors of the will to have access to the deceased’s email and social media accounts.
However, this new Delaware law requirement conflicts with a 1986 federal law. Yes, the law is outdated and it seems our legislature needs to reflect the ever evolving challenge that technology presents. The 1986 law prohibits consumer electronic communications companies from disclosing electronic media and data without the owner’s consent. At that time, email was being invented and social media was an 8mm film being played at your parent’s house.
Other states are now considering the Delaware legislation, albeit with different provisions based on the state. The bill is based on the fact that the executor of an estate already manages the deceased paper documents. The law is also for those who may not be able to maintain a digital presence. It does indeed sound like a practical idea but Google and Facebook, who already are dealing with scrutinized privacy rights issues, are hesitant about the law and how future local, state and federal government legislatures will follow suit by providing executors such access. Google’s and Facebook’s concern are probably because they are afraid of fraudulent use and agencies taking advantage of such privacy right legislation. I personally believe it is a great direction for those of us who live in the great digital domain.
The Wall Street Journal