Fallen Michigan Marine's e-mail messages held up over a privacy issue (Yahoo!)

| December 21, 2004 | The Associated Press

Posted on 12/21/2004 6:03:41 AM PST by wmichgrad

WIXOM, Mich. (AP) - Lance Cpl. Justin M. Ellsworth's e-mails from the battlefront in Iraq were brief and optimistic, eager for news from home and written to reassure loved ones that he was alive and well.

The 20-year-old Marine was killed by a roadside bomb on Nov. 13 during a foot patrol in Al Anbar province.

His body has been returned home to his family, but his e-mails are being held in an unusual legal limbo that has pitted his Oakland County family against Internet giant Yahoo!

"I want to be able to remember him in his words. I know he thought he was doing what he needed to do. I want to have that for the future," John Ellsworth, Justin's father, told The Detroit News for a Tuesday story. "It's the last thing I have of my son."

It's a new problem in the modern war, one in which families less frequently rely on words written on paper and instead, rely on e-mail.

John Ellsworth is pleading with Yahoo! to allow him access to his son's e-mail account to fulfill the family's wish of reading, seeing and knowing the young man's last words, pictures and thoughts from the front lines in Iraq.

The family wants the complete e-mail file that Justin maintained, including notes to and from others. But without the account's password, which only Justin and Yahoo! know, the family's request has been repeatedly denied.

In addition, Yahoo! policy calls for erasing the entire account if, after 90 days, there is no activity.

Some legal observers say the e-mail is part of Justin's personal property and would be the property now of his father who has power of attorney over his son's estate, although such action would likely require a court order.

Others say Yahoo! has a contractual obligation to Justin and all e-mail subscribers to protect their confidentiality and privacy - dead or alive.

Yahoo! maintains that all e-mail account users agree to the following contract when they sign up for service: Any rights to a member's Yahoo! ID or contents within an account terminate upon death. Once a death certificate is received, the contents of the account are permanently erased.

"While we sympathize with any grieving family, Yahoo! accounts and any contents therein are nontransferable, including when the account holder" dies, said Karen Mahon, a Yahoo! spokeswoman.

John Ellsworth said his son agreed to forward the hundreds of e-mails he had received and the dozens he had written back to his father so he could make copies of all the dispatches and put them into a scrapbook for when Justin returned home.

Last modified date and time: 01/17/2005 8:43