Who do you want to be able to read your old emails when you die? Are the dead entitled to privacy? Jolyon Jenkins reports on the increasingly contentious issue of our digital legacy.
As we lead more of our lives online, we leave behind an ever bigger digital footprint when we go. There are the public parts – the blogs, the tweets, the forum posts – but also the private things such as the emails stored on servers owned by companies like Google. Sorting out the digital legacy is becoming as onerous as being a traditional executor.
But it brings entirely new problems: in the case of people who have died suddenly or mysteriously, relatives sometimes feel that they are entitled to get access to the email accounts of dead person to try to find a clue to what was happening in their lives. But many email providers resist handing over this material because of a confidentiality clause in their terms and conditions. Jolyon Jenkins talks to the Stassen family in Wisconsin who took both Facebook and Google to court to gain access to the accounts of their son Benjamin who committed suicide. He also talks to Esther in Kenya who similarly would like to get into her dead sister’s email account to try to find a clue to her unexplained death. But unlike the Stassens, Esther has had no luck.
These are uncharted waters, where analogies with old technology quickly break down, where the principles are unclear, and where important private and personal matters seem to be left to the discretion of big corporations.