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Digital assets bill breezes through first committee

Legislation that would protect one’s “digital assets” after death easily cleared its first review committee on Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary committee unanimously OK’d the bill (SB 494) on a 9-0 vote.

Under the bill, someone of your choosing could have access to and control your financial accounts, social media and anything else you have online after your death.

A staff analysis further defines digital assets as including “emails, text messages, online photographs, documents stored in the cloud, electronic bank statements, and other electronic communications or records.”

The asset manager could be next of kin, a friend, an attorney or anyone the person selects.

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, filed the bill last session, when it died after opposition by Internet goliaths Facebook and Google.

But Hukill, a trusts and estates lawyer, reworked 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.

Hukill was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting; committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, presented the bill on her behalf.

Representatives from Facebook, Google and Apple computers say the companies now support the measure.

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.

Hukill’s 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, for example, covers social media, email and financial accounts.

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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