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Family’s Court Order for Facebook

Recently, I spoke with a Jessica Hopper at NBC Rock Center who was investigating digital legacy. Her story features the Stassen’s, a family who is seeking some answers behind their son’s suicide and are turning to Facebook to find them.

The family has obtained a court order to gain access to their son’s Facebook account on grounds that they are heirs to his estate, and as such, they are entitled to all of his assets, including digital digital, and the contents of his Facebook account. Aside from the publicly posted items, they are curious about what private information might reveal about his death.

His parents speak candidly about it in this video:

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In the supporting article, Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University, commented, “What happens if a 21-year-old had a safe deposit box at the bank, the answer is the safe deposit box belongs to his estate and whoever controls the estate gets to open the box.”

“When somebody dies, the person who is responsible for taking care of the individual’s asset is supposed to be complying with what the individual wanted and protecting the individual,” said Naomi Cahn, a George Washington University law professor.  “Because so many people have not thought about this, we don’t know what the person actually wanted…we can all imagine what’s in internet accounts. There may certainly be cases where the person who died would not have wanted anyone to get anywhere near the person’s account.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Where do you stand on this? Do you believe that the heirs to the estate should have full access to digital accounts? Or do you believe that the online services have a responsibility to protect their users’ privacy, even after death?

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SecureSafe Acquires Entrustet

securesafe-entrustetSwiss-based company DSwiss has announced their acquisition Madision, Wisconson-based competitor Entrustet this morning. The acquisition gives DSwiss’ SecureSafe product a wider reach into the US market.

Both companies provide users with ways to archive digital assets and preserve passwords for heirs. Where SecureSafe’s emphasis is on security, Entrustet offered user a directory of lawyers who were knowledgable on wills and estate planning for digital assets which SecureSafe has said will be invaluable for their expansion into the US market. Entrustet also has a feature called Account Incinerator that deletes online accounts upon your passing.

Entrustet clients were informed of the acquisition by email, which included a voucher for one year of SecureSafe service. They have until have until June 15th to redeem it by creating a new account on SecureSafe and migrating their own data from Entrustet. User data is available on Entrustet servers until July 31st, before it is permanently deleted.

If Entrustet customers choose not to renew the paid version of SecrueSafe after the first year, they will have access to a free version with a lower level of password and document storage and fewer features. The paid version ranges from $1.50 to $12.90 per month.

SecureSafe’s also invites Entrustet users to download their free iPhone and iPad apps.

Formerly known as DataInherit, that name is now the digital asset beneficiary  feature of the SecureSafe product. Both Entrustet and DSwiss were founded in 2008.

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Derek K. Miller’s Final Post

Photo: Kris Krug
Photo: Kris Krug

Derek K. Miller

June 30, 1969 – May 3, 2011

Read Derek K. Miller’s final Penmachine blog post here.
(Cached version.)


Derek K. Miller was an incredible man. He blogged his way through stage 4 metastic colorectal cancer. He coined the term “digital executor” in 2008. He was a father, husband, musician, podcaster, photographer, writer and inquisitive soul.

He blogged for more than 10 years, leaving behind a gift for us all. His children, Lauren (11) and Marina (13), will have an archive of their father’s insights and feelings about the world as a treasured part of their family history.

Derek’s father, Karl, was quoted today in the Vancouver Province newspaper, “He was proud of his blog, and now it is his legacy. It connects him to the world, and to his family, forever. We were there for him, but Derek was comfortable sharing his thoughts with a worldwide community.”

For everyone, but particularly those who are facing death as a result of cancer or other means, his blog shows how he extracted every last drop of joy that he could out of his life before the end. From his final post:

The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don’t look back and regret anything, and I hope my family can find a way to do the same.

My Interview with Derek K. Miller

I had the great fortune of having a long conversation with Derek about digital legacy, digital identity and technology on May 28, 2010. Despite our intentions at the time, it would be our one and only discussion. He wrote a blog post about our “gabfest” then, which included his thoughts on preparing a digital legacy. I recorded our talk, with his permission, as an alternative to note-taking. When I wrote my post at the time, I promised to write more about the discussion we had. As sometimes happens in life, I didn’t get back to that plan.

As a tribute to Derek and his contribution to the topic of digital legacy and digital executorship, I’ve decided to post the entire unedited conversation here – late beginning, sketchy audio in places, and free-flowing. It’s clear from listening to it again how thoughtful and passionate Derek K. Miller was about technology and the effects that it has on our lives.

I’m feeling a loss today, but am grateful that he did so much to preserve his digital self for all of us to discover and learn from.

Tomorrow is Digital Death Day in Mountain View, CA. In our interview, we discussed last year’s event and I hope that Derek’s contributions to our burgeoning field are remembered there tomorrow.

My condolences to his wife Airdrie, Marina, Lauren and the rest of his family and loved ones.

Thanks to Dave Delaney who, while mourning the loss of his friend, volunteered to help me get this audio online.

Additional Resources:

CBC Radio “On the Coast” interview, rebroadcast May 4, 2011

CBC Radio “Spark” on Derek K. Miller, May 5, 2011

Vancouver Sun “A Death Foretold“, May 5, 2011

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