ContractsProf Blog

Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Protecting Your Passwords From Beyond the Grave

Preston_cheryl  BYU's Cheryl Preston gave a very stimulating presentation at the UNLV Spring Contracts Conference called "Hosting Kids Online: Applying 'Terms of Use to Minors."  At issue in the presentation are the rights of the parents of a deceased minor to that minor's password-protected internet communications.  Some internet service providers' Terms of Service provide that the ISP may destroy such communications upon the demise of their author, but Professor Preston's research questions the enforceability of such a ToS when entered into with a minor.   

Delong Fellow conferee Sid DeLong has called our attention to a possible, but perhaps problematic solution.  There is a service called Legacy Locker.  Among other things, Legacy Locker gathers and tests your online passwords for you and then passes them on to your personal representative or named beneficiary when you die.  More information on the service can be found here.  Please note: although the name of the principal behind Legacy Locker is similar to that of the undersigned, we at the blog intend neither to endorse nor to criticize the product.  We just think it is an interesting example of private ordering that could at least potentially save the bereaved from the kinds of adversarial wrangling described by Professor Preston. 

In the specific case described by Professor Preston, the parents of a beloved child wanted to recover some of her e-mail communications, and Professor Preston believes that they had a legal right to such communications. However, in many cases, though not the case Professor Preston discusses, minors have passwords on their internet accounts precisely because they want to keep those communications private from their parents.  That reasonable assumption could be easily overcome if children specified, through Legacy Locker or some other service what was to become of their accounts in case of their demise.

[Jeremy Telman]

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