It is a proud moment for most parents when their son or daughter decides to join the marines and represent their country. This is no different for the family of Justin Ellsworth. Unfortunately the price of being a marine can be life threatening and in November 2004 Justin Ellsworth’s family got to experience a tragedy like no other when their son was reported dead. At the age of 20 their son Justin had been killed in a roadside blast while trying to assist local civilians.
The family of Justin knew that they had legal ground to collect their fallen family member is emails and decided to take their fights to the legal system. For the next two years the family of Justin and Yahoo battled on and off in court. During proceedings both sides holding on to their stance about what should happen to the emails of the deceased soldier with no settlements looming.
In April 2005, nearly two years after Justin had passed the judge had made a verdict. The judge had decided Yahoo had no legal grounds to hold Justin is emails from their family as they were the next in line to control it. Soon after the judge signed off on papers declaring Justin is email estate be signed off to his family immediately. This is something Yahoo did not try to appeal. Finally Justin is family had access to his emails but, not only did they have access, they had closure.
It just goes to show you that if you want your loved ones to gain access to your digital legacy then you must give them access before you die. Whether you leave your passwords in a will or you share it with someone close to you for safe keeping. Concluding remember, you are ultimately responsible for your digital legacy unless you want to let your family and loved ones fight for control!
Why do you need to consider the becoming of your digital assets upon your passing? Just because there are more than what you actually think. If you can’t list them all, chances are that they will not be listed by someone else, and precious heritage can finally be lost for everyone. Or, if there are things that you wish were deleted, but were not, your last message may not be the one you wished for. Inside the different assets type, you have:
Business accounts: let’s say you own an account for any business. It’s full of your clients information, invoices and different bills. These information are critical for your business partners, colleagues or the whole team. For a doctor, it may contain the life history of your patients, with full, potentially life-saving, information.
Social media accounts: obviously, you won’t be able to communicate with your network, but the social networks do have a treasure inside: old exchanges, pictures, videos and other assets. And they can be the base of an online memorial.
Financial assets: this one is quite self-explanatory. Banks are more and more accessible via web interfaces, and may have services storing online currency, like bitcoins. And we’re not speaking about the Amazon, eBay, Paypal websites..
and last but not least:
Personal assets: can you list the totality of your services? I guess not.. Pictures, videos, emails, texts, mms, smartphone apps, … And why not computers, locked by passwords, or medical records, legal files, …
6 year old Jennifer Atkins was just like any other teenager; she liked to use email, faceebook, twitter, tumblr, and blog. She was taking the fullest advantage of the digital age. What set Jennifer apart from other teenage girls was that she was battling a hard war against a disease since she was 12. Jennifer not only discussed her life as a cancer patient – the triumphs, defeats, but also tried to be a normal teenager interacting with friends and family over the internet. The story of Jennifer does not end happily as she passed away in November.
With her passing left her family with much sorrow and anguish, but they tried to move forward and find relief from Jennifer herself. The family had hired a computer expert to use Jennifer’s laptop to find all her passwords so they could relive the life of their family member. Once the computer expert had successfully gotten access to the computer and passwords Jennifer is family began exploring their loved one is life. They found poems, inspirational messages and even some deep and disturbing information. Yet for the family this was more peaceful and a way to never let go of their loved one.
Unfortunately for Jennifer is family the networks that Jennifer had used to communicate and leave the messages they read began to catch wind of what they were doing. Thus beginning the slow process of shutting down Jennifer is accounts, and killing any memories of Jennifer that the family had left.
The issue, sites such as facebook, tumblr, twitter, yahoo, and blog sites had issues with what the family was doing as it went against their terms of services. These sites are very conscious of what new and prospective users might think. If new users thought that these sites could give families access to personal files they may shy away. This might be especially true to people who are estranged from their family. Facebook does give you the option to close accounts down or turn a decease person is page into a memory page (as long as no one logs into the person is account). Yahoo on the other hand will terminate and delete files in their new term user agreement – anyone signing up for yahoo agrees that once dead their account will be deleted.
It is this corporate need to stay protected that caused Jennifer’s family to lose the remaining memories of their daughter. No matter what Jennifer might have wanted, could not matter because the terms of services now days are focused to stop anyone, including families from getting access. Jennifer is family may never getting to know her daughters final thoughts beyond what they had little time to read. This just goes to leave the question, do you have access to your own digital legacy when you sign up for third party sites and are you ready to lose it all and leave nothing for your family if you die?
We often forget that digital property is part of our daily lifes, especially when the conditions create distance between us and the physical world. This is the case with Alison Atkins. She died at 16, of a long struggle with disease, and got more and more connected to the online due to her situation.
Because her sister could not gain access to her computer at first, then to the online services which hosted her writings, poems and pictures, the accounts have been closed one after another, like parts of her online existence getting erased.
The reason behind this is that the law, privacy law, makes it great for living users to control their information, but nothing is prepared for the death of the very same users. To make things even more complicated, these laws completly differ from one country to another. In the case of Alison, they found out a some writings that were made to stay hidden, and service providers are in their right not to disclose the communications.
A google representative mentionned that “It’s crucial to strike a balance” between families and the user’s right to privac