Privacy after Death?

By NetChoice, Special for USDR

Eighteen state legislatures are drafting or debating bills that would curtail the ability for Americans to control the privacy of their personal communications when they die – despite the fact that Americans believe their right to privacy does not end when they take their last breath.

According to a new poll* conducted by Zogby Analytics for NetChoice, the vast majority of Americans believe that maintaining the privacy of their electronic communications trumps giving access to family and heirs.

The poll findings conflict with the actions of estate attorneys, who are lobbying for legislation in many states that would give them new powers to access private communications of the deceased – even against express privacy choices the individual made while alive.  These efforts have led to active bills in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, and Michigan and that infringe on personal privacy.

More than 70 percent of Americans think that their private online communications and photos should remain private after they die – unless they gave prior consent for others to access. In addition, 70 percent also felt that the law should err on the side of privacy when someone dies without documenting their preference about how to handle their private communications and photos.

Full poll results can be found at:  http://netchoice.org/library/decedent-information/#poll

“It is clear that all Americans regardless of age groups or political leanings do not want their online privacy to end when they die,” saidSteve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice. “For nearly 30 years, federal law has prioritized the privacy of our email and other electronic communications. Estate attorneys want to dismantle these privacy protections so they can more easily access and distribute your digital legacy.  Unfortunately, the self-serving arguments of estate attorneys could lead to new laws that jeopardize the privacy of your digital afterlife.”

Additional findings from the NetChoice poll included:

  • Over 70% of Americans say their private online communications and photos should remain private after they die, unless they gave prior consent for others to  access.
  • Only 15 percent believe that estate attorneys and executors should have the discretion to decide what happens to private communications when no prior consent was  given.
  • 65 percent of Americans say it violates their privacy if their private communications and photos are shared without their  consent.
  • Three out of four Americans say they would either make arrangements for friends and family to have access to private communications or didn’t want anyone to access  them.
  • Fewer than 10 percent would want to give consent for an estate attorney or executor to have full access to private  communications.

*The interactive survey of 1,012 adults was conducted on January 27, 2015 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

About  NetChoice
NetChoice is a trade association of leading e-commerce and online businesses who share the goal of promoting convenience, choice, and commerce on the net. Based in Washington DC, NetChoice battles barriers to e-commerce at state, federal, and international levels.  For more information, see  www.netchoice.org.

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