by Matt Thorne

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Red Rules vs. Blue Rules

Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth was a United States Marine who was stationed in Iraq. On 3 November he was killed during the fighting in Fallujah when his vehicle was struck by a homemade explosive device. Prior to his deployment, his friends and family setup a web message board and email address that would be used to communicate back and forth during his deployment. The email account was setup through Yahoo since it was a free and easily accessible from any computer with Internet access.

After his death, his family requested that Yahoo grant them access to that email account so that they could have access to Lance Cpl. Ellsworth’s writings. Yahoo has denied this request, citing their privacy policy that states that your rights to your account are not transferable and that they revert back to Yahoo in the event of your death. In addition, if the account sits inactive for 90 days, it, along with the content in it, are deleted. Yahoo have told the family that this policy is set in stone and that they are unwilling, short of a court order to grant them access to the account. They believe that doing so would open the proverbial can of worms.

You will not find a bigger advocate of Privacy rights than me. What’s mine is mine and I should get to decided if you see it or not. It’s not up to the Government, The Man, Big Brother, whoever. Having said that…this is uncharted territory.

During previous war, soldiers routinely mailed letters home to their families and anxiously awaited letters from the home front. There was no internet, no email, they did it the old fashioned way, pen to paper and wait on the post office. Today, in the digital age, letters have become emails, pen and paper have become laptop computers and PDA’s and you don’t have to depend upon the post office to get that letter to or from the home front. The post office has been replaced by companies who, if you believe Yahoo, become the owner of the message you send through them. Can the post office keep your letter? No. Do you have to sign an agreement with the post office that says they own your mail and if for some reason you can’t take delivery anymore, that they can just destroy it? No. During those previous wars, if a soldier died, his personal effects were put together and sent to his family, including any letters he had in his possession. These could’ve been letters that he sent or received.

In a book titled “Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service”, Kristin Anderson and Ron Zemke posit the idea that there are red rules and blue rules. Red rules can not be broken, they are there to protect life and limb. Red Rules are things like “Don’t light a match while fueling your car.” Why? Because you’ll blow up. That’s pretty straight forward. If you break a red rule, there are dire consequences that must be paid.

A Blue Rule is often a rule that has been in place for a long time, and while there may have been a valid reason for it at some point, that reason no longer exists. A blue rule could also be considered a guideline. A rule that applies 9.9 times out of 10, but there is that rare case where you need to have some flexibility.

This is one of those times. Yahoo Vice President of Communications has been blindly reciting policy to Lance Cpl. Ellsworth’s family and refuses to budge. Just because the letters are digital, rather than physical. There are times to cite policy, and there are times to do what is right. This is one of those times. This is a time of war and treating our soldiers and their families with the utmost respect when they have given the greatest sacrifice outweighs corporate policy every time.



Last modified date and time: 01/17/2005 8:44