Update : 2019.06.07  Fri  No : 503
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Your Trace in Cyber Space even after Death

Have you ever thought about how your property will be treated after your death? In reality, all your possessions such as real estate will be bequeathed to your spouse or offspring. What about your property and, by extension, all traces of you in cyber space? Can it be a part of your inheritance?

In this connection, there has been a lot of controversy between bereaved families and their portal sites’ rules, that is, the right of the bereaved to access the deceased person’s data versus the right of the service provider to keep the personal information private. Besides, there has been social abuse of the private data of the deceased. One corporation made an application for Smartphones to provide personal information of the deceased from the sunken ship Cheonan and sold it for commercial purposes. In this point of view, there is a need to enhance the awareness of this issue.

What do we call this kind of property? It is called Digital Inheritance. It does not have a specific legal or academic definition, but it has become a household name due to the leakage of personal information from the Cheonan incidient. Digital inheritance includes all information on the web that is left after a user’s death. It includes blogs, individual homepages, videos, texts in cyber cafes, and even SNS. How are digital inheritances managed in the domestic system?

Look at the graph about main portal sites’ policies dealing with individual information. In the case of NHN, known as NAVER to users, it provides backed-up records about the dead according to the family’s requests except for data set under private settings by the deceased. Daum restricts all approaches to personal information like blogs, or e-mails even for the bereaved family. Accessibility is only allowed to delete the records of the deceased. SK Communications, known as NATE, has a personal website called a ‘mini hompy’.

The service provider suggests that the hompy can be deleted or remain in commemoration. Also, Daum has cafes which behave like online communities. If the deceased user is a chief of an online cafe, it can be inherited by submitting a report of the death and a deed of transfer. But if the user is just a member, all the records they had in the cafe will remain. In other words, everyone in the cafe can see traces of the deceased user.

So, we can anticipate some of the issues caused by these policies.  First, there is a limitation on the rights of the bereaved family to maintain their loved one’s presence. Recently, a Canadian girl named Allison committed suicide. Her social activity was all recorded on Facebook. After Allison’s death, her family remembered her through her SNS record, but as soon as her death record was delivered to the service provider, her auto login was closed and the family panicked. They tried to open it again through a request to the service center, but it was not that easy. Her family could not understand Facebook’s justification for the closure. Facebook said, “We put the individual’s privacy ahead of everything” Second, the right of the deceased to be forgotten is also ignored. It results in not only the possibility of defamation of the deceased but an invasion of privacy. As long as the record of the dead on the web remains in a hostless state, the problem pointed out above can always happen.

What are the causes of these situations? A lack of social awareness and an incompleteness of the system are replies to the question. Because heritage itself is appreciated as a thing after death, people generally do not really care about it. What is worse is that they do not even think about the trace they had on the web or that it could threaten their future. In other words, anyone can search for the information or past records about any people they want. Also, on the side of the system, there are no domestic institutional resolution strategies.

For instance, there were bills currently before the Korean National Assembly suggested about digital inheritance in 2010. The suggestions has significance in the view of making the public concern about it, but they had some shortages that the proposals cannot embrace all problems brought up in reality linked to the range of heir and concept of digital inheritance. In addition to the limitations, although being passed the standing committee, all the bills were discarded in the name of changing the existing law in a plenary session. This is the evidence that our domestic legal system is very careless about digital inheritance.

Every experts related to this subject has said that the situation needs greater awareness, but it is not easy to recognize that all of our tracks in cyber world can be exposed to my families or other people. To realize this, the role of the service provider is very important for all of us. Managers of portal sites and online communities must let members know about the existence for digital inheritance through a small announcement. We have to recognize some policies to a certain extent as users of cyber space.

Furthermore, the law about digital inheritance should first be made. After becoming popular, it could be too late to fix all related systems. With reference to the Google site policy in the USA, Google management is acknowledging the right of access for the bereaved family, so the service provider can provide access to the cyber trace of the deceased for 30 days upon a close inspection of the family’s submitted  documents proving their position as the family. It means that in the USA, every case related to digital inheritance is left to each portal site’s discretion. In Germany, they have accepted the right to access by the bereaved family, so that the digital inheritance is left up to the family as a keepsake of a deceased member.

According to the Korean civil law of succession and the copyright law, digital inheritance like e-mail, is considered to be an individual work in the view that it has originality, therefore it has property rights. Also, property rights are included as objects of inheritance. Due to this fact, maintaining  the digital inheritance by the bereaved family has no legal errors and is sufficiently legitimate. The dependence on cyber space is growing and today, writing on the web has begun to represent itself. In this current situation, growing awareness and establishing laws concerning digital inheritance have become both necessary and justified.

2013.03.18  No : 452 By Kim Min-jeong Junior Reporter mmkkoo12@hufs.ac.kr
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