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 Mailbank.com. 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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