CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers could soon study if control of Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts should go to the families left behind after the user's death.
The House voted 222-128 on Wednesday without debate to give state Rep. Peter Sullivan, the sponsor of a bill that would have given control over the accounts to the executor of the deceased person's estate, time to instead write an amendment that establishes a study of the issue.
Sullivan faced tough odds winning passage of his original proposal. A majority of the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the House kill the bill.
State Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, wrote in the House calendar on behalf of the committee majority that the issue "deals with a rapidly evolving area of state and federal law."
He said contracts between the user and the social media site outline what happens when the user dies.
"The majority of the committee believes that this bill is premature, as well as unenforceable," Horrigan said.
Sullivan told the House that the fate of the accounts is a valid and growing concern that deserves more comprehensive study along with the broader issues of control of digital media after death.
Sullivan had said earlier that he filed the bill after learning of a bullying case in Canada that led to a teenager's suicide. He said some of those who bullied the teen posted on her Facebook account afterward. He wanted to let the family "step into the shoes of the deceased" and control posts. The presumption would be that the family's rights trumped those of the service provider, he said.
Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the digital civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Sullivan's proposal concerns her.
"I would be suspicious of any laws that weren't very specific," she said.
She said families who want access to deceased relatives' social media and email accounts might tread on the privacy of people their relative communicated with privately.
"Even if I wanted my family to rifle through my private messages, they need to think about the privacy of others," Jeschke said.
The issue has caught the attention of the Uniform Law Commission, which created a study committee last year to address the growing concerns about digital assets and to make recommendations about the rights of a fiduciary to obtain digital information when someone dies or is incapacitated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The commission says it provides states with non-partisan legislation it believes will bring clarity and stability to critical areas of state law.
Five states — Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island — have laws addressing some of the concerns. According to NCSL, the Connecticut and Rhode Island laws address only email accounts. Laws in Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma also address micro-blogging, short message service and social networking accounts.
Idaho gives a personal representative or executor the right to take control of the accounts, according to NCSL. Connecticut, Indiana and Rhode Island require a death certificate and documentation of the executor's appointment to see emails or social networking accounts. Oklahoma allows the will or a formal order to govern access while Idaho allows a will or court order to restrict access.
Social media and email are governed by terms of service agreements with accountholders and privacy policies. Most expire after a user dies. Gmail and Yahoo email accounts are closed after a period of inactivity, according to NCSL. Accounts that are violated by someone using the dead person's password to access the account may be shut down.