From:,4136,80137-1,00.html "The Electronic News Paper"

29 Dec, 2004

US family takes Yahoo! to court over dead soldier's e-mails

IF you are wondering how far Internet e-mail providers would go to protect the privacy of your emails, here an example.

Yahoo is denying the request of a family of a US marine killed last month to gain access to his e-mail account.


The family of Lance Corporal Justin Ellsworth says it wants to preserve the e-mails in a scrapbook dedicated to his memory.

The 20-year-old soldier was killed on Nov 13 in Iraq. 'I think what it was is he didn't have a chance to send them to me,' Mr John Ellsworth, the dead marine's father, told CNN.

'He was wanting to forward his e-mail from strangers,' Mr Ellsworth said.

'They were letters of encouragement. He said all their support kept him motivated.

'We were going to print them out and post them in an album for future generations, his brothers and sisters, and just as a reminder of the times.'

But Yahoo, which hosts the e-mail account, has refused to allow the family access to the account.

It cited its policy that all e-mails are private and will not be shared with third parties.

Yahoo spokesman Christine Castro said: 'Our hearts go out to the Ellsworths and any family that suffers from a tremendous loss such as this.

'The commitment we've made to every person who signs up for a Yahoo Mail account is to treat their e-mail as a private communication and to treat the content of their messages as confidential.'

Both Ms Castro and Mr Ellsworth agree that the family's request breaks new ground regarding e-mail privacy.

Other service providers, including America Online, EarthLink and Microsoft, which runs Hotmail, have provisions for transferring accounts upon proof of death and identity as next of kin, reported The Indianapolis Star.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company gets dozens of such requests a day and has a separate fax number, mailing address and service representative devoted to fulfilment.


Mr Ellsworth said his family had received several offers to help break into his son's e-mail account, but he would prefer to settle the issue with Yahoo in a fair manner.

He insisted that his son's e-mails are the property of his estate.

The family's lawyer, Mr Brian Daily, told the Detroit News that he would seek to put Mr Ellsworth in control of his son's estate, which would give him the right to the e-mails.

'Then it becomes a matter of collecting the property for the estate,' Mr Daily said.

'Our position would be just because the bank owns a safety deposit box doesn't mean the contents belong to the bank.' - AFP.

Last modified date and time: 01/17/2005 8:40