Security

Corpse! of! Yahoo! drags! emails! of! the! dead! case! to! US! Supreme! Court!

'Pon their Oath, they're not having this

By Gareth Corfield

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Should a court-appointed lawyer be allowed to rifle through your email account after you die? The artist formerly known as Yahoo! has asked the US Supreme Court to answer that question for users in the United States.

The court, which is located in the country’s capital city of Washington, DC, on the eastern side of the US, has been asked by Oath Holdings, the corporate body holding the purple-tinged corpse of Yahoo!, to declare whether a lawyer can or cannot read your private correspondence after you die.

“During their lifetimes, most people will have sent emails they considered private to their friends, doctors, lawyers, and lovers. They will have protected the privacy of those emails with passwords intentionally withheld from others. Their emails may say unflattering things about children, parents, and spouses, or contain embarrassing revelations, which they intended to remain private, even after death,” said Yahoo!’s filing.

“Yet,” continued the filing, “under its interpretation of federal law, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts said that court-appointed estate administrators can access all private email accounts, irrespective of the [deceased’s] actual wishes.”

Yahoo! is asking the US Supreme Court to overturn that through the American legal procedure of certiorari, which is similar to the English legal concept of judicial review, describing the Massachusetts court’s view as “expansive, flawed and dangerous”.

Central to the US Supreme Court case is an earlier case from Massachusetts where that US state’s top judges decided it was all right to go poking through the Yahoo! email account of John Ajemian, who died more than a decade ago after a cycling accident. Ajemian’s brother and sister wanted to get into their brother’s private email account, arguing that as his surviving relatives, they were able to legally consent to having the account opened up.

Yahoo! had refused to disclose Ajemian’s emails, citing an American federal law, the Stored Communications Act. The Purple Palace’s people said that in effect they could only disclose the emails with the dead man’s consent – and, as he was dead, that obviously would not be forthcoming. The local court ruled that the act permitted Yahoo! to reveal its contents.

“Since email accounts often contain billing and other financial information, which was once readily available in paper form, an inability to access email accounts could interfere with the management of a [deceased’s] estate,” observed the judges.

The judicial review application was filed in mid-January. No date for hearing has yet been set. ®

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