Telecoms operators gain right to disclose deceased person's digital estate to heirs

Published 06.03.2013 In FICORA's view, a telecoms operator may disclose material related to a deceased person's electronic communications to parties to an estate. Once a person dies, his heirs will become the party to communications instead of the deceased.

As interpreted by FICORA, telecoms operators have the right to disclose a deceased person's messages and related identification data, and user names and passwords needed for managing the data to the parties to an estate. The information may be disclosed in accordance with the same criteria as it would have been disclosed to the deceased person when he was still alive. However, legislation on electronic communications does not oblige telecoms operators to disclose information related to communications to estates. Disclosure of information may be based on a contract or court decision, for example.

FICORA commissioned Urpo Kangas, Professor of Private Law at the University of Helsinki, to carry out a survey on the legal position of digital assets. According to the survey, the basic legal protection of privacy of correspondence and confidentiality of messages can be regarded to have terminated when a person dies. From the viewpoint of the law of inheritance, this means that material related to the deceased person's electronic communications is transferred to the parties to the estate together with any other documents.

According to FICORA's previous interpretation, telecoms operators have not been in the position to disclose digital assets to heirs, because it was deemed to violate the confidentiality of telecommunications. On the basis of Professor Kangas' survey and thorough assessment, FICORA decided to change its previous view and allow the disclosure of data to heirs.

FICORA's guidelines for telecoms operators [PDF, 55 KB] (in Finnish).

Further information:
Jarkko Saarimäki, Chief, +358 40 8360 397, jarkko.saarimaki@ficora.fi

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