I Read Dead People’s Email

When you reach a certain age you begin to wonder… what happens to my hard drive when I… you know. How do my Internet buddies find out that it’s, er, nothing personal that I didn’t respond to their IM — no, I’m just… you know. Not living any more.

And my email? Yale Law’s LawMeme blog has a great item about Yahoo!’s refusal to accede to the demand of the parents of a marine — who was killed in Iraq — that they be provided with his Yahoo! email password. (I found this blog on Instapundit’s blogroll. He doesn’t need another link.) They say they want more to remember him by. Yahoo!’s terms of service pretty clearly address this, and the company is sticking to it.

According to the item, it’s possible that the parents could get the password via a subpoena or, more likely in this case I think, a court order. Should a court grant such an order? It will have to consider California law on inheritance, contract and privacy. And those “public policy” factors that find their way into decision in any number of ways? I say that absent a specific compelling reason to get the email information — i.e., the location of his will or the buried treasure or something like that — it should die with the man. And, considering that, I would also require that the information ultimately revealed be narrowly-tailored as well. The court in camera, or a special master, or another neutral person should fetch the relevant information and then Yahoo! should blow taps on the account. A hero is entitled to die with his privacy and his secrets intact.

UPDATE:  More on the topic.

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Ron Coleman

I write this blog.