You may not relish thinking about you or your family suffering from injuries or illnesses in the future, yet you have an insurance covering these very options, right?
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The possibility of your untimely death is not something you enjoy thinking about, yet you make a will just to be on the safe side, correct?
The probability of you or your loved ones dying is not something you like thinking about, yet you sit down with your spouse, children, siblings or parents, and discuss your digital legacy, assets and estate, just as a precaution, true?
Oh, you don’t?
Let me guess why: Because you haven’t thought about it yet.
That’s OK, I didn’t think about it either. Neither did my brother before he was killed when he was hit by a car on March 2, 2011.
The term "Digital Death" refers to the digital legacies, assets and estate the "modern deceased" leave behind, of both financial and sentimental value. It’s everything you have digitally created and stored: Offline in files, pictures and videos in your computer, tablet or smartphone, and online in emails, social networks, cloud storage services, online banking accounts, virtual shops and others.
While we may not be old or wealthy enough to accumulate many physical assets, we probably are internet savvy enough to accumulate digital assets (How many online accounts do you use? How many do the younger members of your family use?).
Dealing with physical assets of the deceased is something we already know how to do: We have legislation, legal precedence and social norms to guide us, as well as experience gathered over a long period of time. This is not the case with digital assets, however. There is no legal precedence in Israel (and only a few in the world), no local social norms and no Israeli legislation.
As this is a relatively recent phenomenon, there is very little personal experience as well – but that’s going to change, soon. The number of people dying with no one but the deceased knowing neither where he or she stored all this digital wealth nor their usernames and passwords, is growing exponentially.
In the United States, five states currently have Digital Death legislation, and 18 are in various stages of catching up. Each state is struggling to define its own solution, to various degrees of scope and success, as there is (as yet) no Digital Death Uniform State Laws or Federal Law.
In Israel? There is none.
In Israel? None.
None of the Israeli ISPs whose policies I have been checking on a regular basis since 2012 publish a policy regarding posthumous access to the accounts of their users: Netvision 013, Bezeq International, 012 Smile, Internet Rimon, Café TheMarker, Tapuz, Nana10 and Israblog (which is now defunct – another form of digital death to all the content stored in it). Even the ISPs that actually have a clear posthumous policy and procedure, such as Walla!, don’t publish it online. I gathered their varying policies one by one (they are detailed in my blog, here: Technical Guide), as a service to the public. Some Israeli ISPs policies might surprise you with how easy – or how difficult – it will be to kin or heirs to gain access to accounts of deceased relatives or loved ones after their death.
In Israel? Using an online solution to manage your digital assets, as it is done outside the text of an official will, shall have no legal validity (according to Israeli Inheritance Law and Regulations, Chapter 1, clause 8a). Israel allows only one will and only in one format: Pen on paper (clause 18-20 in Chapter 3: Inheritance by Will, Article one).
Is the most unbearable scenario of all for you that in which people go through your private, personal stuff after your death? Even loved ones, or especially loved ones? That’s understandable, as we all cherish our privacy while we’re alive. Do we also cherish our privacy after our death? Some international ISPs - like Hotmail - and some Israeli ISPs – walla!, Netvision or Bezeq International - will release the content of your email account to your kin or heirs.
So you should manage your digital assets regardless to what your wishes are: there are no right or wrong choices, only YOUR choices vs. choices made by outside factors, such as the changing policies of the various ISPs.
Do you remember that horrible moment when the technician lifted his or her gaze and sadly, not quite looking you in the eyes, told you your hard drive is lost beyond repair and with no hope of recovery? Remember that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realized your phone or tablet was stolen, with irreplaceable pictures and videos inside it? How about that time your house was broken into and your computer was stolen with invaluable data in it?
Now multiply those feelings with the pain of losing a loved one, and then multiply the data lost from that one occasion or one lost device with the loss of everything the recently deceased had stored digitally for the past who-knows-how-many-years, and you’ll get a glimpse of what families of the modern deceased are going through.
So, if you are using the Internet, manage your digital assets, legacy and estate, just like you would manage your insurance or will.
If you are a lawyer, advise your clients to manage their digital estate.
If you are an Israeli internet provider, have a clear posthumous policy and publish it online prominently.
If you are the Israel Defense Forces, add Digital Death data to the personal data you have soldiers fill in on their recruitment forms.
If you are an Israeli authority, put in place regulations for Israeli ISPs and adapt legislation to suit our age of technology.
Vered Shavit is an independent researcher, blogger and lecturer at "Digital Dust’"/ "אבק דיגיטלי." After her brother's death in 2011, she started to research the realm of Digital Death and has been lecturing, writing and researching independently about the virtual, online and digital aspects of modern deaths since. The Death Online Research Symposium starts April 9, 2014 in Durham, U.K.