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States Pursue Legislation to Make Facebook Accounts Part of 'Digital Estate'

Almost two years ago I wrote here about the concept of the "digital afterlife," and what people who devote time, energy and money to their "digital selves" can do to plan for the time when they are dead and gone. That post referenced blogs and other online assets, but did not consider one digital asset that has since surged in prominence: social media accounts, and particularly Facebook accounts.

The Associated Press reports that in Nebraska and Oklahoma, lawmakers are taking that issue into their own hands with legislation that makes a person's Facebook and other social network accounts part of their "digital estate" upon their death. Oklahoma was the first state to pass such a law. Under the Oklahoma law, friends or relatives are authorized to take control of social media and email accounts if the deceased person lived in the state. Ryan Kiesel, who wrote the Oklahoma law, told the AP that while existing law adequately addressed how to distribute things like mementos and shoeboxes with photos, it did not contemplate personal photos and other items on Facebook accounts. "We wanted to get state law and attorneys to begin thinking about the digital estate," he said.

Presently, Facebook's policy is that when it is informed of the death of an account holder, it puts the account in a "memorialized state" where certain information is removed and access is limited to friends only. The AP reports that Facebook will only provide the estate of the deceased person with a download of the account data "if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law." Facebook is now working with Nebraska legislators as they craft a law that will be similar to the one in Oklahoma. Similar legislation may also be introduced in Oregon next year.

Posted by Bruce Carton on March 16, 2012 at 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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