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  • My Legal Briefcase

    Ever wonder what happens to your electronic files after you die? (Part I)
    Posted: 2012-07-25 05:00:30

    Once upon a time, people actually wrote thoughts, memories, and ideas down on paper. This “archaic” method is no longer the method of choice as young generations are relying more on digital tools to document their private thoughts. It’s a rarity to find a hardcopy of anything these days.

    So, hardcopy versions are out and electronic files are in. Why does this matter?

    You would assume that changing the medium individuals use to record their most intimate thoughts would not seem like that big of a deal. As times change, technology also changes. However, have you ever thought about the implications of accessing the electronic files of a deceased friend or family member? Any email, social media, banking, or blogging accounts will likely be password protected, making access unlikely. It is not often the case that you would require access to the email account of a deceased individual, but this was the unfortunate scenario for the Stassen family.

    In 2010, 21 year-old college student, Benjamin Stassen, tragically committed suicide. He had not left any notes, nor given any indication to his family and friends as to why he would have contemplated such an act. In their desperate attempts to seek the truth and closure, Helen and Jay Stassen, Benjamin’s parents, decided to search their son’s Facebook account for any clues. Based on the circumstances, you would think that the social media giant would be sympathetic to the Stassen’s situation. This has not been the case. Obtaining access to Benjamin’s account has proven more difficult a task than the Stassens had anticipated.

    The Stassens now find themselves in a conflict with Facebook over attempting to access their son’s online content. The family was granted a court order recently directing Facebook to permit the family access to Benjamin’s account and that they are entitled to all of its contents. Facebook has not immediately complied with the order as it is currently being reviewed by their in-house legal department. If Facebook does not comply with the order, they may be found in contempt of court; however, the order can be appealed.

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