April 24, 2012

Naomi Cahn on the digital afterlife

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Naomi Cahn, John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University, discusses her new paper entitled, “Postmortem Life Online.” Cahn first discusses what could happen to online accounts like Facebook once a person dies. According to Cahn, technology is outpacing the law in this area and it isn’t very clear what can happen to an online presence once the account holder passes away. She discusses the various problems family members face when trying to access a deceased loved one’s account, and also the problems online companies face in trying to balance the deceased’s privacy rights with the need to settle an estate. Cahn claims that terms of service often dictate what will happen to an online account after death, but these terms may not be in line with account holder wishes. She then suggests some steps to take in making sure online accounts are taken care of after death, including taking inventory of all online accounts and determining who should have access to those accounts after death.