Email Privacy

Posted: October 17th, 2013

Email Privacy






Email Privacy

Every day, millions of people in the world are at one time or the other engaging their life in the internet, be it social or professional. Users of this technology are known to spend vast amounts of time interacting with other parties, especially on social matters. Many young people store their journals and share information such as photos with friends and family through the internet. Each day, very many people lose their lives through one thing or the other. Therefore, how should we treat personal property of the deceased such as laptops and e-mail accounts? Justin M. Ellsworth’s family could on cling to every word that came from the fingertips of the young twenty-year-old Marine from his e-mails while at the Iraq battlefield. Justin’s messages were optimistic and brief, eager to know about things at home and written to reassure his beloved family that he was doing okay. John Ellsworth, Justin’s father could only read those messages repeatedly. The two only had their last conversation over the phone ten days before Justin lost his life while on foot patrol by a roadside bomb (Yahoo! Inc., 2006)

While his body was being ferried home for burial, the e-mails between him and his family were now the only lifeline describing their intimate relationship. The controversy in this case was that his family was denied access to Justin’s e-mail in a cyberspace legal limbo with Internet giant Yahoo! Eventually, a court decision had to settle the matter with Justin’s family winning the case. This case raised significant debates whether the family should have been allowed access to Justin’s e-mail account. In my opinion, I do not think Justin’s family should have been allowed access to his email account.

The completely twisting factor in this case was matters of privacy with regard to the contract between Justin and Yahoo! Privacy is regarded is an interest where individuals have an opportunity of maintaining their personal space free from being interfered with by other organizations or people for that matter (Branscomb, 2004). Privacy was the reasonable contract and expectation that Justin entered with when he agreed to sign up with Yahoo! and open an account (Yahoo! Inc., 2006). Every person’s e-mail account is an emulation of that place where we expect to find personal space, store private documents, and keep our innermost sentiments stored in the same place (Clark, 2007). I am certain that Justin’s family had good intentions when they proceeded to seek access to Justin’s account. However, in their quest to obtain Justin’s final thoughts, there was the possibility that his family could have unveiled a different personal life that could have altered their opinion about him.

From a utilitarian point of view in ethics, an action should be considered good if it is intended to create well being than harm. If Yahoo! could have willingly given Justin’s family access to the account, this would have duly amounted to action that only satisfied one party in the name of Justin’s family. This action would have compromised the utilitarian concept on ethics since it did not promote well being of the greater public. In addition, I am sure Justin’s parents had not considered the implications involved if they proceeded on to open their son’s private e-mail. Their good memories of him could have been foiled by some information that may be could have been displeasing to them. Moreover, I feel that the judge had not considered the consequences of the matter when he made his ruling on the case. His decision was rather from an emotional point of view rather than a professional one.

From a Deontological ethical viewpoint, Justin’s family should not have been given access to the e-mail account with regard to the privacy agreements between Justin and Yahoo! Allowing this was a violation of Justin’s contractual and human rights when his e-mails were released to the public. Once a violation of these agreements was made, other people are sure to follow on the same grounds demanding access to e-mail accounts on reasonable arguments. For this and other reasons, these agreements should have stood their ground and the parent’s attempts should therefore have been waived. The moral right of granting Justin’s family access to his account for the benefit of their situation and the difference between wrong and right was contrary to Yahoo!’s privacy agreements on client e-mails (Branscomb, 2004).

By handing out one password, this immediately created uncertainty concerning the privacy of the rest of the e-mail users. Consequently, this would go on to affect the signing of new client accounts for yahoo. Additionally, the family in this case did not have any rights whatsoever with regard to Justin’s private e-mail when he died than when he was alive. Yahoo! accounts are to be considered private and I am sure individuals with such accounts would withhold access to any member of their family even when they are alive. While we should really sympathize with what Justin family has had to go through, it is a legal consideration that Yahoo! accounts and their contents therein be treated as private and non-transferable.

In conclusion, I Justin had the desire to share his account’s e-mails with family, he had an option of “courtesy copying” those emails for them. It is my belief that the court ruling was wrong to grant access of Justin’s e-mail account to his parents. It is my understanding that privacy is an interest where individuals have an opportunity of maintaining their personal space free from being interfered with by other organizations or people (Branscomb, 2004). Sure enough, Justin’s family had every good intention of requesting access to his e-mail account. Nevertheless, I still stand with my argument that they ran a risk of acquiring a completely different picture of someone they thought they knew. In my opinion, this was a wrong way of honoring a fallen hero fighting for his country. This and other deontological and utilitarian theories in ethics should have been considered when society was confronted with cyberspace legal limbo.



 Branscomb, A. W. (2004). Who owns information? From privacy to public access. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Clark, Roger (2007). Introduction to Dataveillance and Information Privacy, and Definitions of Terms. Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd. Retrieved on June 11, 2012 from http://

Yahoo!Inc. (2006). Information Sharing and Disclosure. Para 3. Retrieved on July 27, 2008 from http://info.

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