Yahoo! Declines Request for Dead Soldier’s Email

By Deane Barker on December 21, 2004

Dead Marine’s kin plead for e-mail: The family of a soldier killed in Iraq wants access to his email account. Yahoo! has said no.

“I want to be able to remember him in his words. I know he thought he was doing what he needed to do. I want to have that for the future,” said John Ellsworth, Justin’s father. “It’s the last thing I have of my son.”

But without the account’s password, the request has been repeatedly denied. In addition, Yahoo! policy calls for erasing all accounts that are inactive for 90 days. Yahoo! also maintains that all users agree at sign-up that rights to a member’s ID or contents within an account terminate upon death.

I’m sure they don’t want to set a precedent. If they allowed they’d open themselves up to a ton of problems. Still, couldn’t some at Yahoo! just accidentally send the password to the family? You know, an honest mistake and all.



  1. “Still, couldn’t some at Yahoo! just accidentally send the password to the family? You know, an honest mistake and all.”

    No, no, no. Absolutely not!

    If the soldier had wanted his family to read his email, then he would have CCd or BCCd them. The simple fact is that his email is between himself and his recipient.

    Wouldn’t it be great if Yahoo! did turn over his email to his family only for them to read derogatory comments about themselves? Furthermore, you have to consider the rights of his correspondents, if the soldier is like most email users, then large portions of his email will include snippets of email he is replying to. In the worse case, they’ll include entire message bodies. Don’t those correspondents, who in all likelihood are still living, deserve their privacy?

    I think Yahoo! is behaving perfectly correctly and certainly in the manner I would expect of them.

    After the 90-day inactive period Yahoo! should delete the soldier’s email with a clear conscience.

  2. When I was a division officer on the ship I had to go through a sailor’s belongings before sending them to his parents, and the XO made it clear to me that there better not be anything in that box that would upset his parents.

    This was before the days of email, so that wasn’t an issue, but I had to read everything that was in his locker before packing it up, and threw away anything that might upset the parents – rubbers, playboys, stuff like that.

    He wasn’t dead – he’d been in an accident and was paralyzed from the waist down, but the procedure is the same either way – he wasn’t coming back to us and the stuff had to go to next of kin (since we had no way of knowing where he’d end up for treatment – we were in Australia when this happened)

    Yahoo is not the bad guy here.

  3. This comes down to basic humanity. With Intranet, email, high speed lives we have lost the ability to think outside this pathetic little box we sit in front of and remember that we are dealing with human life. We are not dealing with a contract, a term of use, a “critical piece of data to circle back and touch base on” as the corporate lingo makers would spit out. This is life and life is about the family you have and the life you lead and left behind. Can you imagine 150 years ago a family trying to get their sons belonging back after a war and being told nope sorry it’s our box and that’s it. We will burn it as stated in his contract to serve. As a nation we would have lost maybe the letters that fed our history. “Most of the slain were young men in their twenties. Poignantly, some had been found clutching photographs, letters, or Bibles, last remembrances of loved ones lost. ” These men were not clutching service agreements, contracts to enlist, or contracts made with shops back home. They were clutching to the things that matter; family, faith, and correspondence with loved ones. Let this man’s family have his email. It will not stop wall street, it will not stop elections, it may though become a piece of history for our children’s children to read about. Do the right thing, the human thing.

  4. “If the soldier had wanted his family to read his email, then he would have CCd or BCCd them. The simple fact is that his email is between himself and his recipient.”

    Thats one of the stupidest things Ive ever heard…Do you think everyone who would care less that their family members read their email actually send all their account info to their parents? Thats complete and utter BS, yeah i know im gonna die tomorrow in a surprise road side bomb so let me send you my email info so you can have something to remember me by….get a clue. If their is anything derogatory within his email, they’ll have to live with it, but Id rather have it than not. I say just have one of these crackers go in there and retrieve the stuff for them…screw yahoo, I believe they’re in the wrong…give the family solace, peace, closer. If a few emails can end their suffering for their son, then by all means help them! I just dont understand.

  5. Why isnt all of the mail that this soldier sent to his parents good enough? The father said that they were in constant contact through email. If this was so important to him why didnt he just save the email that he had already recieved. If you follow the argument that this is personal property that should go the them.. then the son should have left that bit of information in his will along with the password information. And from Kevins comment about the personal letters in past wars; those letters were sent to the intended recipeint. Those letters were already recieved and were chosen to be released by the person who recieved them. When you write an email do you not usually send it right then. Why should they have access to emails that he recieved from other people. He might just have wanted those emails to remain private.

  6. Yahoo is absolutely correct. Most of you have probably never been in the military. It’s not his family or anyone else’s business, what was in his email. Believe me, they probably would wish they hadn’t seen it if they got the chance. It is absolutely none of their business, no matter what they think.

  7. you know… maybe as in the case of the dead sailors locker, there are things in there that the Son might not want his folks to read! I know my emails back and forwards to my boyfriend get pretty darn raunchy, and I dont think I want my family reading those. Why cant yahoo go in and delete anything not sent to the parents? or anything remotely offensive.

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