All your secrets will be theirs. (Thinkstock)
Delaware passed a law this past week that gives heirs the authority to take over any digital account (think Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, email) or device, according to Ars Technica.
The poetically named Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act is the first law of its breadth in the United States, though other states, including New Hampshire and Nevada, have offered provisions for dealing with a person’s post-mortem digital detritus.
The law addresses a problem that has grown alongside the social networks themselves: When a person dies, access to her digital accounts tends to go with her, creating painful and time-consuming processes for mourning family members to take control.
For instance, in 2012, Canadian teenager Amanda Todd committed suicide after being bullied on Facebook. The harassment continued even after her death, but her family wasn’t able to delete the comments from her page, or to disable it altogether.
In another instance, an Oregon mother sued Facebook to get access to her deceased son’s account in 2005, after he died in a motorcycle accident.
Just last month, a group of lawyers called the Uniform Law Commission — appointed by state legislatures to standardize the country’s laws — gave a post-death “digital assets” plan its approval. Unlike the Delaware law, it would give loved ones access to, but not control of, a deceased family member’s online accounts.
In the meantime, major social networks have invented their own policies for members who pass on. Facebook, rather than allow the deletion of a deceased person’s account, chooses to memorialize the page (it exists forever and allows friends to view photos and posts from the past). Google, on the other hand, is willing to delete accounts or to share them with a close family member.
Whether these companies will continue to make such decisions, or whether more states step in and craft their own policies, remains to be seen. But as Twitter handles and Facebook profiles continue to prove troublesome for grieving families, it’s increasingly clear that some entity needs to take the lead.