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Dorothy Hukill tries again to protect “digital assets”

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill wants to protect your ghost in the machine.

The Port Orange Republican has refiled a bill (SB 494) that would protect one’s “digital assets” after death, meaning someone of your choosing could have access to and control your financial accounts, social media and anything else you have online.

Her bill last session died before it could be heard on the floor.

“As people’s lives, both personally and professionally, are becoming more digital, more of their information is getting locked up online,” Hukill said Monday, explaining her interest in the legislation.

Her bill ran into problems during the 2015 Legislative Session when opponents, including Facebook, said it conflicted with federal online privacy laws.

In February, Facebook released its own “Legacy Contact” feature, allowing users to select another Facebook friend who can look after their account when they pass on.

“Alternatively, people can let us know if they’d prefer to have their Facebook account permanently deleted after death,” the site says.

That was the concern of state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, who told The Tampa Tribune earlier this year that the bill “basically is saying that even if you wish your accounts not be accessed after you die, they can be.”

Hukill, a trusts and estates lawyer, said she changed the language for the 2016 Legislative Session so that someone has to give “explicit consent” to someone else to access and control a particular asset.

That someone else could be next of kin, a friend, an attorney or anyone the person selects.

Facebook now is comfortable with the reworked bill and won’t oppose it, Hukill said. A Facebook spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

The new bill also clarifies the rights and responsibilities of a digital custodian of records, and makes online providers immune from liability.

At least nine states now have laws that allow for some level of control of digital assets after death, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The first state law in Connecticut, passed in 2005, only allowed for access to email. But a law passed in Louisiana last year covers social media, email and financial accounts, for example.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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