Yahoo Gives Slain Marine’s Family Access to Their Son’s Email

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Many of Aunty’s dear readers will remember that around Christmas last year Aunty told you about the Ellsworth family trying to get access to their slain son’s Yahoo email account, after their son Justin Ellsworth was killed in combat in Iraq. And following that, the Linn family of Midlothian, Virginia, attempted to get access to their slain son Karl’s email account from provider Karl was also slain in combat in Iraq. In both cases, along with a third involving the family of soldier Michael Smith of Media, Pennsylvania, the families were denied access by the ISPs.

Now, in a surprise development, Yahoo has turned over to the Ellsworth family a CD purported to contain all email which was in Justin’s account at the time of his death. While the action was the result of a court-order, it is important to remember that ISPs such as Yahoo are under incredible constraints when it comes to privacy, and it may well be that Yahoo had wished to assist the Ellsworth family in their time of bereavment all along, but felt that their hands were tied absent a court-order. In other words, it may well be that they welcomed the court order, which allowed them to do what they may have wanted to do all along but felt unable. This is certainly very much the case when an ISP is presented with a request for records relating to a spammer who is an ISP’s customer. Most ISPs want nothing more than to cooperate and share the spamming customer’s information with the aggreived spammed and law enforcement, but tied by their own Terms of Service, or fearing a lawsuit from the spamming customer, or both, they need – and want – a court order requiring them to turn over the information.

While we’ll never know for sure what Yahoo’s internal position on the issue was, we do know that Yahoo did not attempt to fight the court order, and according to a Yahoo spokesperson, “We are pleased that the court has issued an order resolving this matter, satisfying Mr. Ellsworth’s request as representative of his son’s estate, and allowing Yahoo to continue to uphold our privacy commitment to our users.”

Unfortunately for the Ellsworths, the only email on the CD was email received by their son Justin – there was no outgoing email, as they had seemed to hope – perhaps hoping for some insight into their son’s last days.

Aunty feels for everyone involved in this tragedy, the Ellsworths, the other families, and the service providers themselves, all of whom have found themselves, if you will forgive Aunty this levity in a moment of great brevity, stuck between Iraq and a hard place.

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3 thoughts on “Yahoo Gives Slain Marine’s Family Access to Their Son’s Email

  1. Frankly, I wouldn’t want my ISP to turn over my email to my family if something happened to me. Email conversations between myself and my friends are private and none of anyone else’s business, including my own family’s. If I want my online friends informed in the case of something happening to me, then I provide those addresses to a family member and request that those people be informed if something happens to me. As far as business dealings (eBay, online orders) are concerned, any business contacts would already have other contact information (phone number, mailing address) so that they could contact someone in case I were to suddenly drop out of contact.

    If I’d wanted my family to have access to my email, I’d have given them my username and password in the first place. I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Just a little something to keep in mind.

  2. Comment by Spamhuntress:

    “Well, as long as they’ve got incoming mail, they could ask his friends to send them mail they received from him, assuming they still have it?”

    Thats a reasonable idea as Yahoo webmail does NOT automatically save “OUTGOING” messages unless configured to do so. This was a fairly popular topic for sometime. Its a fair end to an unfair occurence. Laws are in place for a purpose and Yahoo is a large enterprise that would rather avoid a suit and rule in fairness when ever possible.

    When I first seen this article I too was kind of upset by the barring of access. But I also work in the field of computing and security and have dealt with many companies. I can tell you, not much is safe these days and MANY companies take security like a grain of “air” and spare the expense on salt!

    You can blame it on the lower rank employees all you want, I’ve been thru and worked the ranks. Its the upper eschelon of the company that need to take hold of the horns. As terrible as I felt for the family of this soldier …these laws are in place for a purpose.

    – Z

  3. Well, as long as they’ve got incoming mail, they could ask his friends to send them mail they received from him, assuming they still have it?

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