As more states write and enact regulations that govern the rights that consumers have to their online information, it is critical that these laws consider the case where authorized agents act on behalf of a deceased user. During the emotional time that follows the loss of a loved one, many people are finding it increasingly important, yet consistently challenging, to locate and manage digital assets. Data privacy laws can address these concerns by explicitly defining a category of authorized agents to include executors, trustees, and conservators of an estate.

This is not unprecedented access. Most states have already enacted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which allows a user to designate access to their accounts by an authorized fiduciary agent after their death. However, gaining legitimate access to online information remains a challenge. States can incorporate clauses to reduce the friction of managing a deceased user's estate by making such access clear within data privacy laws.

The California Consumer Privacy Act is one set of regulations for privacy rights for residents. These laws allow California residents to request access to, deletion of, and transparency about their data, and how it has been collected, used, or sold. In the text of the California Consumer Privacy Act regulations, there is language that allows an authorized agent to act on behalf of a user. We believe that these capabilities should be expanded upon to allow a legally recognized fiduciary agent to make requests on behalf of a deceased user. Read more.

Your state may be considering similar data privacy laws. If you agree that this is an important consideration, reach out to your local regulatory bodies and ask them to include posthumous fiduciary access.

Granting Executor & Conservator Access to Online Data through Data Privacy Laws

Protecting online data for a user that has passed away comes with a lot of restrictions and ambiguity. We think states can fix that.

© 2020 The Digital Afterlife Project

This project was created and incubated at the Aspen Institute Tech Policy Hub