Online life after death faces legal uncertainty
Different jurisdictions set different rules for what should happen to online personal data after death
IDG News Service - When people die in the real world, their online alter egos may live on, creating an unusual situation for those who only knew them through their online presence.
The law is only beginning to address this limbo state, and fragmented privacy legislation provides no conclusive answer to the question of who should be allowed to access or delete someone's social networking profile or email correspondence after they die, a panel discussion at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference concluded.
When a Facebook user dies and Facebook is informed of the death, the company "memorializes" the profile, hiding features such as status updates, and allowing only confirmed friends to view the timeline and post on the profile.
Maintaining access to such a profile helps in the mourning process, said psychologist Elaine Kasket, who presented a paper on life after death on Facebook at the conference on Monday.
"Visible conversation with a person who died and about person who died is important in the grief process," she said.
While that may be important to Facebook friends, the family might think otherwise. If a friend for instance posts a picture on the deceased's profile showing them drunk and passed out on the floor during a party this might give solace to the poster, but family members could want to remember the deceased person in another way, said Kasket.
A wall post like this could prompt the family to ask Facebook to remove the whole profile, and in that way re-traumatize close Facebook dealing with the death, who then have to go through a second shock when they realize that the profile too is gone, said Kasket.
This raises questions about how online personal data should be handled after someone dies, but there is no conclusive answer to that in current legislation, said Edina Harbinja, a Ph.d student at the Law School of the University of Strathclyde.
There are laws that concern online life after death, but they are fragmented and differ by country, said Harbinja, who studied different European laws on the subject.
In Bulgaria for instance, the heirs of the deceased can exercise the rights of their family member, she said. In Estonia, meanwhile, if someone gives their consent to the processing of their personal data by an online service, that consent is presumed valid for 30 years after their death, unless they indicate otherwise during their lifetime. "Conversely, in Sweden and the U.K., personal data is defined as something that belongs to the living, said Harbinja.
There is no pan-European legislation dealing with this problem yet. The draft of the European Data Protection Directive does not mention deceased's data in any context, she said. Since the legislation is so fragmented in the E.U., it would be a real improvement if post-mortem privacy protection were to be introduced in the proposed regulation to enable the same level of protection for Europeans' digital data, she said.
- Social Media in Technology: A Unified Strategy for Success Find out how social media is sparking a new era of customer and industry-understanding in technology enterprises and how industry leaders are overcoming...
- Big Data, Big Mess: Sound Risk Intelligence Through Complete Context This paper examines the insecurity of the small businesses in the supply chain and offers tips to close those backdoors into the enterprise.
- Using Cyber Insurance and Cybercrime Data to Limit Your Business Risk This paper examines the challenges of understanding cyber risks, the importance of having the right cyber risk intelligence, and how to use this...
- 5 Tips to Secure Small Business Backdoors in the Enterprise Supply Chain This paper examines the insecurity of the small businesses in the supply chain and offers tips to close those backdoors into the enterprise.
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to...
- Will the Real Endpoint Threat Detection and Response Please Stand Up? This webinar explores new technologies & process for protecting endpoints from advanced attackers as well as the innovations that are pushing the envelope... All Social Media White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!