A new Michigan law lets specific people access the online accounts with memories on Facebook and Google after the owner dies. However, according to The News & Observer's article, "New law lets some access Facebook, email of the dead," it wasn't easy to get tech companies and lawyers to agree on the rules.
The debate between privacy and access happens when deciding what to do with a deceased's digital property or records.
"For the last few years, there's been kind of this war going on," said a lobbyist who testified before a House committee reviewing the legislation on behalf of the Elder Law and Disability Rights section of the State Bar of Michigan.
He said that estate lawyers want to make it less difficult for those appointed to manage someone's property after they die or become incapacitated to be able to access all those memories, including emails and photos stored online. However, companies have privacy standards and internal policies.
"It wasn't easy. This has been worked on for a couple years," said Republican Rep. Anthony Forlini, of Harrison Township. "This is gonna affect most people's lives more than just about anything we've done, and most people don't understand that."
The Michigan law is based on the Uniform Law Commission model legislation. This model law was endorsed by Google, Facebook, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP).
A Google spokesperson said in an email to The Associated Press that the company believes that bills like the Uniform Law Commission's model bill and Michigan's new law "strike the right balance between the needs of the executor and the privacy expectations of the user."
Several states have enacted versions of the model legislation, and 20 others have introduced some form of the legislation this year.
Reference: The News & Observer (April 3, 2016) "New law lets some access Facebook, email of the dead"