A legal battle is heating up in Oregon between that state legislature and tech companies like Facebook over the “Digital Asset” rights of deceased web users. It all started when Karen Williams, the mother of a 22-year-old Oregon man who died in a motorcycle accident, tried to access her son’s Facebook account. Tech companies like Facebook have argued that on the grounds of their own user service agreements and the 1986 Stored Communications Act, a federal law, that they can’t disclose the information of a deceased user, even if it’s requested by the family or in their will.
The Oregon state legislature attempted to pass a bill allowing for all digital assets to be considered with the same legal language as material possessions, but tech lobbyists moved quickly to quash the proposal. The new version of the proposed bill would only allow for financial information to be available to the deceased’s relatives.
The rights of a deceased’s digital materials is a particularly thorny issue, especially since it’s caught in limbo between federal and state laws. However, all parties are in agreement about one thing: laws must be changed to reflect the increasing digitalization of our world, and a person’s online identities will have to be a part of that reckoning.
“If this were a box of letters under his bed, no one would have thought twice,” Williams said of her son’s Facebook page.
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