GovTech – States Confront Digital Life After Death
Carl Szabo, policy counsel for NetChoice, a trade association that represents e-commerce businesses and consumers, isn’t enamored of the Delaware act, however. He told Government Technology that the measure ignores user preference on privacy and voids online service providers’ default terms of service.
“The concern we have is not only the privacy when you die, but the privacy of those you communicated with,” Szabo said.
For example, those viewing a deceased person’s email and other communications with friends made at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings now may learn that these friends are alcoholics. Or, if the deceased was an attorney and sensitive emails exchanged with a client were opened and read by family members, it could violate the client’s privacy expectations.
“Yes, we like to say we’re doubling down on privacy,” Szabo said. “As we took some more time and the issue evolved, we realized that it’s really on the privacy side that we’d rather come out. We want to protect our users’ privacy because that’s what they expect and it’s a promise we intend to keep.”
Szabo said the industry recognizes that more people live their lives online and are shifting to paperless bill-paying and electronic records. So to aid a fiduciary in wrapping up a person’s estate, online service providers are considering a way to allow fiduciaries to access the records of the communication using “outside the envelope” information – the “to and from” lines on emails.
If done this way, Szabo believes an executor can then contact a bank or other institution and close appropriate accounts for the deceased, without actually seeing the contents of emails and other messages and preserving a person’s privacy.