Digital Legacy Association urges hospices to support patients in managing their digital estate

The Future of Our Digital Selves

By Jess Myra


This paper presents insights on designing interactions for digital immortality after bodily dying, and will deal with factors of interactions with the digital archive for those who stay alive.

Current instruments for digital memento and digital archive administration will not be supposed to perform for submit-life communications and don’t sufficiently take into account the longevity of content material, digital legacies, and relevancy of content material over time.

Conclusions and insights from graduate thesis analysis are offered right here to tell applicable interactions for digital immortality. It will embrace how cultural legacies of the previous can encourage digital legacies for the long run. Also, correlations will be included from a survey addressing mementos, digital legacies, digital will planning, digital archives, and the dying of family members.


Results offered listed here are primarily based on interviews and a web-based survey. This survey had a complete of one hundred fifteen respondents and integrated qualitative and quantitative questions. Input strategies had been through radial button choice, a number of checkbox choice, and free textual content entry. Questions coated normal demographics and 6 subsections (conventional mementos, digital mementos, digital will, your legacy, these gone, digital archives) totaling 31 questions with the choice for suggestions on the finish.

Participants had been unfold throughout 22 international locations, with most respondents from North America (60%) and Europe (24%). Gender division was males (sixty one%) and females (39%). The majority of respondents had been working professionals (seventy five%), with lesser respondents as numerous sorts of college students (18%), with nominal respondents both a keep-at-dwelling dad or mum or as “different”.


Dusty picture albums and containers of letters (conventional mementos) are being changed with laborious drives and cloud storage (digital mementos). Instead of fading pictures and ink, we now have the endurance of digital bytes. As we transition to this new kind of digital content material administration, traces of ourselves begin to manifest that will retain life far after we die.

In human historical past, there has at all times been a want to go away a legacy and be remembered. This occurs at varied scales whether or not as a civilization, tradition, household, or particular person—suppose pyramids to gravestones. In trendy instances, our channels of communication have shifted from conventional to digital memento administration.

This compulsion to seize our lives for posthumous remembrance is named thanatography. This paper explores interplay alternatives for a way our digital legacies may be eternal and retain relevance to these dwelling lengthy after our loss of life. This a brand new strategy to human-pc interplay analysis in submit-life digital humanities referred to as thanatosensitivity.

Cultural Legacies

An essential half of analysis for this thesis examined cultural legacies which have survived all through the generations. Studies included: on-website visits, interviews with anthropologists, audio guided excursions, commentary, and reflections leading to matter upsetting questions.

The purpose of this portion of analysis was to find how present behaviors and historic societies can encourage the legacy of digital content material for the next generations of technocrats. The following cultural legacies had been examined:

Native American Totem Poles, Vodou Spiritual Communications, and Icelandic Sagas.

Traditional Mementos

Traditional mementos are sometimes simply significant to the person who owns them and so they doubtless don’t even keep in mind the final time they dealt with them. Comparatively, many individuals need to be remembered lengthy after their dying so the paradigm of coveting private objects as a technique to retain a legacy to go on to others is just not very efficient. The which means and worth of conventional mementos can simply be misplaced to the following sequence of receivers.

Digital Mementos

We are amassing gigabytes of photographs, movies, and emails and we wrestle to parse significant content material at related instances from the collections. Web companies like Flickr, or software program purposes like iPhoto add some readability with organizational strategies like date stamping or tagging. Facebook’s implementation of the Timeline additionally helps us to reßect on shared moments primarily based on years of our lives. Yet, why is a date, key phrase tag, or yr related after we die? Does this meta knowledge add worth to our digital legacy when individuals need to entry it later?

The Archive

The digital archive is a set of all digital content material that the particular person owned together with the digital pictures, video, audio, emails, tweets, and textual content messages from that one particular person. However, the traces between digital archives aren’t so distinct. Typically, digital media is shared with others. Our milestone moments and recollections have worth as a result of we expertise them with folks. Consider the shared mementos between a household, or tight community of mates. The digital archive of somebody who has died in that context is considered much less as ‘theirs’ and extra as ‘ours’.



We settle for a broader possession of digital content material as we tag our pals, they usually tag us, and we every share the identical content material independently by way of totally different shops. With so many channels obtainable to entry and share digital content material, and a lot of our time now being devoted within the digital realm, there’s a bigger viewers accessible that’s unparalleled by our conventional mementos. There is larger alternative to replicate our digital selves ahead to be remembered by future generations and extra importantly, to offer worth for them by way of our digital archives for an extended interval of time.

Everlasting Presence

As traces of our digital selves persist after we die, there’s alternative leverage digital media so our lives can proceed to be significant for our family members. We can retain relationships with folks we care about and make our life experiences out there for his or her profit. In essence, we will persist digitally to some extent after bodily demise.

Current platforms that exist haven’t been constructed for the performance of put up-life content material administration. Facebook’s Memorial pages are static archives in an energetic public platform that don’t handle the sensitivities of particular relationships. The Timeline group of content material is sensible for our personal self-reflection in life, nevertheless, as a digital archive it doesn’t present direct worth for others.

Remembering the Dead

One of the largest challenges with digital immortality is retaining relevancy of our digital content material over time so our lives might be precious and significant to future generations. In the interval instantly after loss of life, household and pals mourn and undergo the grieving course of. After acceptance of the dying, the particular person is remembered by these surviving by way of recollections and mementos. If the particular person was recognized first hand in life, triggers reminiscent of a spot, date, or scent can recall shared moments. However, what occurs generations after the demise of somebody and people people who knew them in life additionally cross away? How can somebody who has been lifeless for a very long time retain a legacy in digital content material that will have which means to future generations.

Activating Archives

Now we have now the chance to leverage qualities of digital content material to help differing types of relationships into the long run. With the copious quantities of knowledge being collected and shared about our private lives, there’s alternative to remain linked in new methods after dying. Algorithms primarily based on persona and character traits can auto-put up on somebody’s behalf—as seen within the new on-line service LivesOn that will tweet for you past the grave. Similarly, providers like Dead Social and IfIDie permit customers to ship preplanned messages in social media after demise.

Intersections of Life

However, not represented within the present suite of publish-life digital companies are the advantages of shared life experiences and commonalities throughout digital archives after dying. Namely, the second of overlap between somebody’s life and a digital second from somebody who’s lifeless might be beneficial in numerous contexts.

These corresponding life experiences will be accessible from the archive of people who have died to supply a brand new foundation for empathy all through life phases of the dwelling that the deceased can contribute to. This offers a chance to find new views on folks you thought you already knew, or new commonalities with a relative you by no means knew in life. Commonalities and shared experiences are timeless. They retain worth in new methods to totally different individuals, for various causes, at totally different moments.

Because now we have varied levels of relationships with individuals, we frequently wish to share and bear in mind folks in numerous methods primarily based on how we knew them. Also, the sort and quantity of info we will wish to share will depend upon how shut we’re to them. Thus, utilizing public platforms to serve the aim of many levels of relationships will not be applicable. It doesn’t fulfill the specificity of private relationships, and imposes moments within the public sphere that will possible not be anticipated and doubtlessly not desired as nicely.


With new retailers for connecting to a bigger viewers, and with traces of ourselves which can be left behind in digital media, it’s extra essential than ever to think about features of possession, longevity, and relevancy over time of our legacy after dying. Different from previous traditions, the long run of digital content material administration permits us to preplan and increase our digital archive to stay linked with family members and people in our social community lengthy after we’re bodily gone.

Through my analysis, I consider present present platforms don’t leverage digital media adequately for submit-life legacy in an lively contextual manner, nor does it assist the wants of these near us as a platform for communication and reminiscence in our bodily absence. I consider the traces between particular person digital archives are blurred and there may be alternative for our life to retain relevance far after we die by leveraging the worth of commonalities throughout our digital archives. Through shared recollections and availability of empathetic experiences, our lives can have that means over time through the wealthy digital content material that aggregates all through our lives.

There is a brand new alternative introduced to us that didn’t exist earlier than with conventional mementos. Fortunately, we’re in management and will get to determine what it means to command our put up-life digital selves—ought to we select to.

Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?

Legal Framework and Limitations

                  Federal Criminal Legislation. The Federal Government enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA”) in part to criminalize internet theft, data theft, computer hacking, and other forms of internet crime. As written, CFAA criminalizes the unauthorized access to any computer, online service or online account. Unfortunately, to determine who may and may not access a specific account, even with the explicit permission of the account holder, you must read the service or account provider’s Terms of Service contract. As an example, Facebook’s Terms of Service Agreement prohibits anyone from logging into a user’s Facebook account, other than the user themself, even with the permission of the user. Therefore, a family member, friend, or even a fiduciary that logs into a Facebook account, using the password provided to them by the user themself, has violated the Terms of Service contract and is now committing a federal crime under the CFAA. Fortunately, the Department of justice has made it clear that they are not looking to enforce the CFAA when dealing with simple violations of online Terms of Service contracts, unless there are other more criminal factors involved. However, as advisors to our clients, and to fiduciaries such as Power of Attorneys, Executors, and Trustees, can we ethically advise clients to access digital assets and accounts where we know that they will be committing a crime under the CFAA? Further, if our fiduciaries do decide to access such accounts and commit a crime, how will we respond to a challenge from an unhappy beneficiary who is aware of the access and its violation of the CFAA?

B.                  Federal Privacy Legislation. In addition to the criminalization of unauthorized access of digital assets and online accounts, the Federal Government has also passed the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) which creates a right to privacy for data and information stored online. Similar in nature to the federal health information privacy act (often referred to as HIPAA), the SCA creates specific guidelines as to whether, and when, providers of electronic communication services and holders of online data can release the information. As you will see below, these protections can create significant hurdles for family members and fiduciaries who attempt to access information stored online with these service providers and content holders.

1)                  Law Enforcement Agencies may compel the release of the information otherwise protected by the SCA through the use of subpoenas and other legal procedures.

2)                  Service providers are prohibited from disclosing information, or granting access to accounts, to non-Law Enforcement individuals (family and fiduciaries), unless one of the statutory exemptions are met. While there are exemptions for specific situations such and employment related emails being released to an employer or being disclosed during a lawsuit against a business, the main exemption that we should be aware of and plan with is the “Lawful Consent” exemption found in Code Section 2701(b)(3) of the SCA. This exemption allows a service provider to voluntarily turn over (or grant access to) stored information if the recipient has the lawful consent of the creator of such digital asset to access such information. However, this exception only provides that the service provider MAY turn over the information, but does not require them to. In fact, there are several national cases where service providers have chosen not to disclose the information. In these situations where the recipient actually had lawful consent, the courts indicated that the SCA exemption does not mandate the disclosure of the stored information, and that the courts could not compel the distribution of the information under the SCA even through legal proceedings.


C.                        State Criminal Legislation. Every state in the United States has its own version of computer and online fraud statutes that it uses to be able to bring state law charges for online theft, fraud, hacking, and other internet and computer crimes. In Florida, we have Florida Statute §§ 815.01-815.07 (“Florida Computer Crimes Act” or “Florida CCA”), enacted in 1979, which provides our state legislation. Typical violations under the Florida CCA are

  • unauthorized access of another user’s account
  • unauthorized modification, deletion, copying of files, or programs
  • unauthorized modification or damage of computer equipment.

However, Florida-based businesses usually prefer to pursue cases under the federal CFAA for relief because the Florida CCA allows plaintiffs to bring the civil action against a hacker only after a criminal conviction is successful.

  1. State Fiduciary Powers. Given the lawful consent exemption to the SCA that was discussed above, several states have amended their state statutes to provide that fiduciaries in their state shall be deemed to have lawful consent to access online information under the SCA. This is intended to open the door to allow service providers to voluntarily disclose stored content without the fear of having to determine on a case by case basis whether the fiduciary of an account holder has been given lawful consent. Unfortunately, to date, only five states have enacted such laws (Connecticut, Idaho, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Indiana), and another 18 states have a relevant bill introduced (California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia), with the majority of the pending legislation introduced in the last 2 years. Unfortunately, even the enacted statutes provide little guidance in the form of definitions and procedure, and therefore while certainly a step in the right direction, these enacted and pending statutes have a long way to go to fully fix the access problems.
  2. Website and Service Provider Contracts. Online service providers mandate that all users agree to the provisions of a Terms of Service Contract (“TOSC’s”) which governs the actions of both the service provider and the user. Unfortunately, the TOSC’s are a take it or leave it situation, and can not be negotiated by the user. Can you imagine if each user could independently negotiate the terms of his or her contract with iTunes or their email service provider? Therefore we are relegated to accepting the often one-sided terms mandated by the service provider. These TOSC’s often restrict who may access a registered account or service to the individual that created the account, thereby eliminating any flexibility for fiduciaries or other authorized people from accessing the account. Likewise, such TOS’s will usually create restrictions on the ability of someone other than the user to reset or obtain password. In general, it’s the restrictions found in these TOCS’s that set up our fiduciaries for failure under the CFA and SCA.
Digital Legacy Association urges hospices to support patients in managing their digital estate

Obstacles to Transferring Online Accounts

One possible obstacle to the transfer of online accounts concerns privacy laws. If an account owner dies, a personal representative or successor trustee may not be able to simply call up the service provider and obtain a password to the decedent’s account. The service provider may have a privacy policy that prohibits turning over account information or content to a third party without a user’s consent. As a result, the service provider may refuse to allow the personal representative access. In that case, counsel may need to make use of one of the procedures I describe in the previous section. Although the service provider arguably has an obligation to surrender property of the decedent, the service provider may want a court order authorizing turn over of the account in order to protect itself from a claim of a privacy violation. Even if the decedent did not assert a privacy claim, government regulators might. Therefore, requiring a court order would seem to be a prudent course for a service provider.

In addition, planners should consider the effect of cybercrime laws, like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, California’s cybercrime and identity theft laws. They should also account for service providers’ terms of service. A service provider could take the position that a personal representative’s use of a decedent’s password to access an account after death is a violation of its terms of service. The service provider might also say that using the decedent’s account violates cybercrime laws. On the other hand, the personal representative could contend that he or she steps in the shoes of the decedent for purposes of authority to access the account. Moreover, the personal representative may have documents signed by the decedent authorizing access to online accounts.

There seems to be a gray area regarding the legality of post-death access to accounts. Nonetheless, the Nicholson article mentioned above in Section III suggests to service providers

that they should make plans for death and disability by allowing users to name a contingent authorized user who has the authority to access the account. In the absence of clear procedures for contingent authorized users to an account, where online services warn of criminal liability for unauthorized access to accounts, it may be prudent for a personal

representative to avoid simply accessing the account following the decedent’s death using the decedent’s password. In such cases, it may be best to obtain the court’s instructions permitting the access.