The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

March 1, 2013

In death, Facebook photos could fade away forever

(Continued)

Proponents say the need is clear. Without clarity or direction, the digital information left behind by a deceased person can spark emotional legal battles, pitting big business against devastated families. And as more and more memories are being stored online, new tools are necessary to make sure loved ones can easily access personal details that could be lost forever.

"If this were a box of letters under his bed, no one would have thought twice," Williams said.

Months after the death of her first-born son, who was away at college in Arizona, Williams found comfort in his Facebook page. There, she was able to click through photos and letters that helped ease the pain of her loss — for two hours.

She learned of the page from his friends and wanted access to his memories to keep them from being deleted, which was Facebook's policy at the time. Unaware of Internet privacy regulations, she reached out to Facebook for help. As she waited for a response, one of his friends provided a tip that helped her discover his password. "It was like a gift," she said.

Shortly after, however, the site's administrators changed the password, citing company policy in denying her. Williams sued and won, but she never received the full access she sought. Eventually, the account was taken down. In the end, she gained little more than a symbolic victory and a role as champion of a cause that didn't exist before the digital age.

Kiesel, the former Oklahoma lawmaker, says the various attempts at legislation have sparked a long overdue conversation about estate planning for digital assets.

"I think that, because of the wide prevalence of online accounts and digital property, the federal government will ultimately need to pass some legislation that provides greater uniformity," he said.

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