Yahoo to preserve e-mail of Marine killed in Iraq

One example of the type of ethical issues that cross Srinija Srinivasan’s desk at Yahoo! is whether family members should have access to the e-mail of a deceased relative. From Yahoo’s perspective, to release messages from a deceased user’s e-mail account would violate the privacy rights of the deceased and those with whom they have corresponded.

Such a dilemma moved towards resolution today when Yahoo! announced they would preserve the e-mail of a Marine killed in Iraq (contrary to company policy of deleting unused accounts after 120 days). Whether the password will be released to the family remains an open issue. Here’s an excerpt:

WIXOM, Mich. (AP) — Officials at Yahoo have taken action to preserve the e-mail account of a Michigan Marine killed in Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Justin M. Ellsworth, 20, was killed Nov. 13 during a foot patrol in Al Anbar province. After his death, his father, John Ellsworth, found himself in a legal battle with Yahoo! when he tried to access to Justin’s Yahoo! e-mail account.

The father pleaded with the company to give him access to the account to fulfill the family’s wish of knowing Justin’s last words, photographs and thoughts from Iraq. While Justin was in Iraq, he and his father discussed the e-mails Justin had in his account and how John would make copies of all the correspondence for a scrapbook.

But without the account password, which only Justin and Yahoo know, the family’s request was denied. To release those messages in such circumstances, Yahoo said, would violate the privacy rights of the deceased and those with whom they have corresponded.

Yahoo policy calls for erasing the entire account if, after 120 days, there is no activity.

John Ellsworth told The Detroit News for a Tuesday story that his attorneys are negotiating with Yahoo to get the e-mail password released.

Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako said Yahoo has been working with Ellsworth on a “shared goal of finding a mutually agreeable resolution to a complicated and, in many ways, uncharted issue.”

[via TechDirt]

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