In Brief

Delaware Becomes First State to Legalize Inheritance of Online Accounts

by Mostafa Heddaya on August 20, 2014

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(image by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

A new law in Delaware has made digital devices and accounts inheritable, the first such measure in the United States, Ars Technica reported. The bill, signed into effect last week, drew a veto request last month from an industry lobbying group called the State Privacy and Security Coalition, which represents technology giants like Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. That letter, dated July 8, argues that the law might violate the privacy of the deceased and could override existing contractual agreements that stipulate accounts cannot be accessed by anyone other than the original user.

The bill was modeled on legislation put forth earlier this year by a nonprofit group called the Uniform Law Commission, which lobbies for “clarity and stability [in] critical areas of state statutory law,” according to its website. Delaware’s House Bill (HB) 345, “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” is the first application of the Uniform Law Commission’s proposed legislation.

In a statement to Ars Technica, Jim Halpert, director of the State Privacy and Security Coalition, reiterated the complaints made in the group’s July letter, citing the potential for inappropriate disclosure of the deceased “highly confidential” correspondence.

“The volume of email is far larger and people usually consider much more carefully what they write in a letter,” Halpert told the publication in response to a follow-up about question about the difference between physical and digital correspondence.

Online services typically do not hand over login information to loved ones in the event of death; Facebook, for example, allows accounts to be “memorialized” or shut down, but claims it is “a violation of our policies to log into another person’s account.” The law defines “digital account” broadly, covering virtually every possible online activity that involves a personal login — from social media to health insurance, web hosting to tax preparation, ebooks to iTunes.

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