Should yahoo have been forced to turn over justin ellsworth’s email

The new privacy
Email Privacy
If the law does not keep pace with technological developments, and it always seems to be at least one step behind, the consequences
can be devastating, even in the seemingly simplest of things. What could be more technologically routine these days than email?
And yet……
Justin Ellsworth was a Marine who gave his life for his country. By all accounts he was a brave and fine Marine and we all owe him
the highest debt of gratitude. But we were also left with a serious question: what to do with his email? His parents wanted access to
it — they wanted to see what their son had to say. However, email is a private sort of thing. Yahoo, his email provider, had a termsof-
service agreement with him. And while we sympathize greatly with his parents, there is also a precedent to be concerned about.
One can’t simply waive away others’ privacy; a decision to release the information could have serious consequences for email privacy
for us all. So the issue needs to be discussed, thought through, and resolved. That is why we have cases like this in a class like this,
so we can think these things through and try to respect the family, the deceased, but also the needs of society.
Please go to the web and to our cyberlibraries and find as much as you can on this case. You can go to ProQuest and start with Susan
Leach’s article summarizing the case (use ProQuest database to retrieve; see presentation referenced in the Syllabus for
assistance with such searches):
Who gets to see the e-mail of the deceased? Christian Science Monitor. Boston, Mass.: May 2, 2005. pg. 12.
ABSTRACT: Many legal experts say Yahoo! acted correctly. It denied the family’s informal request and only yielded under court
order. “I would hope that the Yahoo! position here would become a trade practice – that e-mail would only be released if a judge
approved it,” says Gerald Ferrera, executive director of the Cyberlaw Center at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
For Yahoo!’s part, the company says it still stands behind its commitment to treat each user’s e-mail as private and confidential.
“We are pleased that the court has issued an order resolving this matter … and allowing Yahoo! to continue upholding our
privacy commitment to our users,” says Yahoo! spokeswoman Mary Osako.
Most people leave their privacy in the hands of e-mail providers, rarely reading through the terms of service and privacy policy
before clicking the “I agree” box. Yahoo! states that its accounts are nontransferable and that “rights to the Yahoo! I.D. and
contents within the account terminate upon death.” Destroying the data once the contract ends simplifies life for Internet service
providers (ISPs), says Mr. [Alan Chappell].
Lest you think that this is all in the past, think again. The title of Tom Spring’s article says it all:
Spring, T. (2010, May 23). Good-bye to privacy? Learn about major new threats to your privacy, from social networks to advertisers
to yourself. PCWorld. Retrieved from
Scared yet? Never fear, your Federal government is on the case! Aren’t you just waiting for the Feds to watch out for your privacy?
Vijayan, J. (2010, November 12). Obama may toughen Internet privacy rules, report says; Watchdog planned for online privacy.
Computerworld. Retrieved from
But don’t stop there; there are a lot of other discussions about this issue of e-mail privacy out there. Try a Google search using the
phrase “issues of email privacy” and see what you find. What seems to you to be a very clear-cut answer to this problem may in fact
change as you read more about it and integrate these points of view into your thinking. But in the end, the question still needs to be
be answered, and you are to write a short paper discussing it:
Should Yahoo have been forced to turn over Justin Ellsworth’s email to his parents? And should the same rules be
applied to you? Whose job is it to enforce them? Why?
Your paper should be between three and five pages. Take a definite stand on the issues, and develop your supporting argument
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carefully. Using material from the background information and any other sources you can find to support specific points in your
argument is highly recommended; try to avoid making assertions for which you can find no support other than your own opinion.
Make sure to spell out the utilitarian and deontological considerations involved, and distinguish between them.
Be sure to provide proper citations for any material you reference from other sources! See the TUI Guidelines and/or the Purdue
University Guide cited in the background information for Module 1 if you are unsure as to how proper citations work.

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