Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Dead Men Floating through Internet


Generally, people are represented in society through everything we do, everyone we've known, everywhere we've left our influences of any kind. When people pass away, some of those representations change, while some do not. Some fade away, while some last forever. Although these outcomes differ from types of representations and deceased person’s situation, at least, people cannot manage them at all, after passing away.

Personal information on Internet

As for personal information on Internet, such as online photo albums, Facebook pages and blogs, it would be worth considering that people properly manage such information in advance, i.e., before passing away. Since these information exist remotely (i.e., not physically stored in deceased person’s apartment unlike diary book) and since these are protected by IDs and passwords (i.e., even if successors could open deceased person’s computer, they might not able to reach the Facebook page or blogs), such information cannot always be found and managed by successors of deceased person, while irrelevant people can easily see it online as if the writer is still alive.

In a case where deceased person had not set appropriate measure before death and successor could not find her online photo albums, Facebook page and blog, the person will float through Internet as if she is still alive, accompanying bunch of unfavorable comments including advertisements and abuses, as the case may be.

In order to avoid unintentional floating through Internet after death, we can prepare by ourselves in advance.

Possible ways of control

There are several possible ways to control personal information and to prevent us from unintentional floating through Internet after death.

Set a timer

We may try to set a online timer which automatically works after passing away and which controls our own information on Internet. In Japan, there are service providers that (i) update the member’s blog automatically in accordance with previous request by the member or (ii) send out emails to people specified by the member, when the member did not timely respond to some status confirmation emails consecutively sent by the service provider. By using these services, we can not only manage our personal information on Internet but also prepare a farewell message to others in advance. However, we should note that there is no guarantee that these companies continue to exist until we die. Company might quickly make a decision to end their business and delete all secured information. I think we should not rely on these companies’ eternality.

Record accounts information in one place

We may also try to record accounts information (such as URL addresses, IDs and passwords) in one place so that our successors can properly find, manage and close our online photo albums, Facebook pages and blogs. Several websites such as Legacy Locker and Life Ensured are providing such kind of services. However, we should note that it is not totally assured that our accounts information will be kept in secret forever until our death. Letting others know all of my accounts and passwords means, potentially and reluctantly help someone to do a data mining. For example, when I have revealed all of my accounts and passwords to such service entity, and if such information was somehow leaked to a third party, such party can completely impersonate me, at least in the realm of Internet. It would mean a collapse of my identity.

Store personally

As mentioned, there are several concerns when we store personal information on Internet. In addition, as we learned during classes, our posts, comments, photos, etc. on Internet can be intentionally gathered by someone and will be identified, even if each post or comment itself seems to be insufficient for identifying person. As such, we may shift to using non-internet devices, such as personal servers and USBs, to the extent possible. Even if our successor could not find or use devices, at least, personal information contained in these devices will not unintentionally flow on Internet after death. However, we cannot avoid storing some of our personal information on Internet, such as Facebook pages.


As stated, there is not a perfect and definite way to control personal information on Internet completely after death; however, the best way would be a combination of possible ways stated above. In order to properly manage personal information, we should think about need and effect of each post before doing it online.


Webs Webs

r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:39 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM