Should Justin Ellsworth's Parents Have Been Given Access to His Email?

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Should Justin Ellsworth’s Parents have been given access to his email? Every day, thousands and millions of people flood the world with e-mails. Most youngsters keep online journals and share photos online with friends and family. And each day, many of us die. What happens to the contents of a deceased’s laptops and e-mail accounts? Would a deceased want his or her family to read the e-mails? What would happen if a deceased stored work files on his or her computer that belonged to his or her employer? Could a deceased assign a representative to go through the computer and clean out any files the deceased didn’t want anyone to see? In general, private letters that are used for communication are seen as personal property. When one dies, they form part of the estate as if they were stored in one’s safe deposit box. Over the last decade, however, letter-writing has become less popular while an increasing number of people switch to use e-mails for correspondence. Should the e-mails stored on email providers remote servers be treated similarly as paper correspondence that pass to the heirs, or as something new? Since email has taken over as a major form of communication and almost everyone having an email account, these are questions that will no doubt be debated for some time. I will discuss both the utilitarian and deontological considerations in an attempt to determine the “right” thing to do regarding the legal battle involving Justin Ellsworth.

Justin Ellsworth was a marine that was killed in combat. His parents sought possession of his email account after his death, however the email provider (Yahoo) refused due to their contractual obligations to Justin.

The utilitarian consideration is determined by actions that produce the most “happiness” for the greatest number of people. In this particular situation, there are three groups. There are the parents of Justin, there is Yahoo, the company who managed Justin’s’ email account and there is the general...
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