Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words

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  • Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words

Some of you will remember that just before Christmas we wrote about the Ellsworth family, whose son was slain in combat in Iraq, and who were subsequently trying to get Yahoo to let them have access to their son’s email account. Yahoo had staunchly refused, citing their privacy policy.

Well, it’s happened again, to another family, the Linn family of Midlothian, Virginia, who have found themselves pitted against Reno-based Internet service provider Mailbank.com.

It seems that the Linn’s son Karl, who was stationed in Iraq, would send out an email update, and update his website, several times a week. His parents keenly looked forward to these updates – their only connection to a son a half-a-world away, and always in danger’s way. So much so that in fact one of the first things they did as they came out of the shock of hearing of their son’s death was to ask ISP Mailbank to please give them access to the last writings of their son.

Mailbank, like Yahoo before it, declined, citing their privacy policy.

And at the time of this writing we have just become aware of another family, suffering a similar loss. The parents of Michael Smith, of Media, Pennsylvania, who was killed in action in Iraq on January 11th, are trying to get access to his LiveJournal.com account, so as to read his last written words.

 

It seems unlikely that any of these families will gain the access they seek before each of the ISP’s auto-expire rules take place, expiring the accounts due to inactivity.

There are several lessons to be learned here.

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Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words

First, email users and blog posters, be aware that if something happens to you, your grieving loved ones left behind will not have access to anything of yours which is online. Now, that may be the outcome you want. But if that is not how you want it – if you want your family to be able to access your last thoughts, and to be able to notify your corresondents of what has occurred – make sure to leave your password with a trusted person – perhaps written in an “open only in the event of my death” marked envelope.

Or, if you’re really tech savvy, you can set up a chron job to check your login file every day, and if it detects that it has not been changed in X days, have it email another file containing your password to a trusted loved one.

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Second, Internet service providers – shame on you for not already having built “in the event of my death, please give access to my account to the following people” clauses into your terms of service! Get with it and update them.

And third, to those of you who have loved ones stationed overseas, talk to them about providing their password to you in a “not to be opened unless” email or written letter, and about petitioning their Internet service providers to allow them to create an “in the event of my death please give access to my account to the following people” list.

Don’t delay – it’s an unpleasant thing to think about, but not nearly so unpleasant as being confronted with the situation as have the Linns, Smiths and Ellsworths, out to whom our hearts and heartfelt condolences go.

  
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Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words

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  • Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words

2 Replies to “Another Slain Soldier’s Family Fights for Access to His Last Digital Words”

  1. Why would anyone conceivably leave access to their email account, even in the event of death, to someone else? Any stored *personal* email would be there, and any email worth sending would’ve been sent already. I can understand obtaining legal docs to get any content of legal consequences but … just for the sake of seeing personal correspondence? Do the grieving loved ones left behind inherit the right to someone’s personal life, thoughts, correspondences? I feel for these families, don’t get me wrong, and my condolences go out to them, BUT … they just can’t pry into someone’s private life, even if love is their motivation. Just beacuse someone dies, it doesn’t mean they forsake any sense of personal privacy.

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