The legislation comes from the Uniform Law Commission, which campaigns for common laws across US states, so could eventually spread to larger and more populous areas of the country. The law, House Bill 345, was signed last week by Governor Jack Markell.
But the law seems to be at odds with the terms and conditions of some online services. Facebook, for example, forbids its users from sharing their password or transferring the account to another person without written permission from the company.
Google, Facebook and Twitter did not respond to queries about whether they would be complying with requests made under the newly-passed law.
There are also suggestions that people could arrange for their will to be managed under Delaware law in order to take advantage of the new legislation.
Kelly Bachman, a spokeswoman for the Delaware governor’s office, told Ars Technica: “If a California resident dies and his will is governed by California law, the representative of his estate would not have access to his Twitter account under HB 345.
“But if a person dies and his will is governed by Delaware law, the representative of that person’s estate would have access to the decedent’s Twitter account under HB 345. So the main question in determining whether HB 345 applies is not where the company having the digital account (i.e. Twitter) is incorporated or even where the person holding the digital account resides.”
Under UK law there is no automatic provision for a person’s passwords and accounts to be passed on to heirs. But it is possible to leave access to digital assets by including passwords in wills.
A 2011 survey by Goldsmiths at the University of London found that one in ten people were already leaving such information in their will for family and loved ones to ensure their personal data is archived and not abused.