A DUP MP has called for a change in the law to give families “immediate access” to the digital data of their deceased loved ones.
The MP for North Antrim said people are creating “an even larger digital footprint” throughout their lives, both personally and financially, which “may be buried beneath layers of cyber security”.
The law change, he said, “would clarify the position in the UK and protect the assets and legacy of an individual’s digital estate”.
It would, he added, “grant immediate access to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated person’s digital assets without having to take costly or uncertain legal action against digital platforms”.
There was, he said, a need to “unlock this labyrinth for the public”, adding: “My Bill would create a law where the default position would be that the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated person would automatically gain access to the contents of the digital platforms held in the deceased person’s name on their digital device.”
He added: “It will allow the next of kin the automatic right to access to a person’s digital device and place a responsibility on the tech companies to unlock devices for those next of kin who do not have the access codes for devices left by the deceased.
“It will avoid unnecessary legal action by the next of kin.
“It will remove forever the unnecessary wall that will unlock – for many – happy memories and access to what they thought was lost, archive material about their loved one.
“Precious photos, videos, memories, messages, diaries and other material will be accessible to next of kin at the most difficult time in many families’ lives.”
Citing the “tragic story of 14-year-old Molly Russell”, Mr Paisley added: “This Bill will ensure digital data is available to investigators, above all that other bereaved parents do not have to experience what other families have gone through in accessing social media and other accounts of their children.”
Molly, from Harrow in north-west London, is known to have viewed material linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before killing herself in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.
Her loved ones reportedly had to battle with social media sites to access her data, with the BBC saying one refused to release data without a court order, while another had deleted her account. A third said it had concerns over European data protection laws.
Mr Paisley’s Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill was listed for a second reading on Friday February 4, but is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.