Life and Death Online: Who Controls a Digital Legacy?

Published on January 5, 2013
by Geoffrey A. Fowler

Alison Atkins died on July 27 at age 16. Online, her family is losing its hold on her memory.

Three days after the Toronto teen lost a long battle with a colon disease, her sister Jaclyn Atkins had a technician crack Alison’s password-protected MacBook Pro. Her family wanted access to Alison’s digital remains: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts that were her lifeline when illness isolated her at home.

“Alison had pictures, messages and poems written that we wanted to keep to remember her,” says Ms. Atkins, 20, an undergraduate at the University of Toronto.

But using Alison’s passwords violated some of those websites’ terms of service, and possibly the law.

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