DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES 1DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUESPriyaranjan B MestriUniversity of Washington
DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES 2BackgroundInheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights and obligations uponthe death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies.The Roman law introduced the concept of universal succession, which is to say thatin inheritance law the heirs enter into the legal position regarding property rightsUnique Characteristics of Digital AssetsPhysical assets like books, clothes, accessories etc. can be easily passed on without anylegal complications because the laws are formed and defined. But when it comes todigital assets like passwords, access to social network profiles e.g. Facebook, Twitter,Google or Linked In; emails, tweets, databases, digital files and bank accounts, the legallandscape has failed to keep up with the web 2.0 and the rapid technologicalproliferation.Today, the amount of information accessed and stored online is growing atthe speed of lightning. The growing use of email and paperless bill paying has created asituation where vital records are stored-in online accounts only. In addition, more andmore information and valuable items are resting on media that are not owned by the dataowner but by service provider(e.g. Google, Apple, Microsoft etc.). Also in contrast tophysical assets, electronic values can be copied indefinitely, which could be problematicif the asset represents intellectual properties. In contrast to conventional inheritance ofphysical assets, digital inheritance also needs to cope with the fact that the digital heirsareonly known by their email addresses or mobile numbers. Handing over digital assetsrequires additional information that may be crucial for a heir to further treat the digitalassets.Digital Inheritance and the legal frameworkAlthough, the Roman law introduced the concept of universal succession, in which theheirs enter into the legal position regarding property rights of the testator by law. Muslimsharia laws and Bible talks about the inheritance issue, but what about the digital assetswho will inherit it. The answer to this new question arising out of internet bubble of earlymillennium year has been to create a legal framework wherein a person can specify as hedoes with his physical assets that who should get what, when he is no more.
DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES 3Some of the problem that came into light recently is related to what happens to the dataand information that is password protected and users dont share it with anyone. Some ofthem could be our secret of life. How can users secure of password or decide what ourinheritor could access. All of these questions are becoming very important and Internetusers have been wrestling with it.Digital inheritance and the lawAt present, service providers and content sellers have been slow to react partly becausethe issue of transference post death of the customer is complex and has been affectingonly a limited number of customers. However, these companies and content sellers willbe forced to react faster, more so because of the consumers’ demand. Therefore, thedebate at present is whether the next of the kin will be granted access to the digitalaccounts. For example, access to Amazon account if the deceased person ishis or her nextof kin and did not have the password.Consequently, there has been an increasing pressure on lawmakers to build broaderpolicies and practical solution to the ongoing confusion and misunderstanding as of now.There has been some legislative progress for surviving family members. At least threestates -- Idaho, Nebraska and Indiana have enacted laws that allow next of kin to gainaccess to digital accounts. Other states, including New York, North Carolina and Oregon,are also considering making changes.To prevent estate issues, digital media owners should plan ahead. Users can specifyinformation passwords and accounts to be passed on in their will.Some data inheritance services have also emerged in recent years, promising a secureplace to store documents and passwords that will be passed on to a stated beneficiaryupon the account holders death.
DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES 4Conclusion and OpinionThe digital inheritance and accessibility issues came into light recently after a couple ofnotable cases and lawsuits against the service providers for not giving the kin access tothe digital assets after the death of the owner. People have recently realized that digitalassets like bank account details, Facebook access and other digital properties are nottransferrable like the physical assets. The concept is fairly new because a large number ofpeople are not aware about the laws and terms and conditions behind the servicesprovided. In addition, digital media and electronic format is a new concept in people’slives.Since, the concept is very new there is a need to create awareness about the digitalrights and the importance of the medium.In my opinion, the best way to approach this problem is by understanding that digitalassets are as good as physical assets and should be treated similar to the physical assets.With just one difference i.e. unlike the physical assets digital assets are vulnerable interms of manipulation, duplication and deletion.Another solution could be encryption of the password and split the password intofragments and distribute it among the heirs. After the owner ceases to exist, these heirscan combine their pieces to find out the password.Companies can provide services to the users or customers wherein the owner could savethe digital details or assets in the name of the heir or next of the kin and specify whatassets should be given access and pay a nominal fees. Once, the owner is dead the heircan have rightful access to the digital assets.Also, Digital Rights Management (DRM) system or password locker like the Dswisscould be a best solution as it allows access only to the testator and an executor presentinga death certificate. For example: Hotmail has a provision to provide the details and accessupon the proof of death such as death certificate and a valid identity of the heir or the kin.
DIGITAL INHERITANCE AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES 5Citations“The Legal Issues Arising from Marketing Through Digital Media in the UAE”by DavidYates & Yvonne Pah“Legal issues regarding access to digital assets growing”http://www.gallowaycollens.com/blog/2012/10/legal-issues-regarding-access-to-digital-assets-growing.shtml“Digital inheritance” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_inheritance