STEP is supporting a campaign in Parliament that would give grieving families access to their loved ones’ sentimental digital assets.
Ian Paisley Jr, the MP for North Antrim, has tabled a Private Members’ Bill that would give next of kin the right to access to a person’s digital device and place a responsibility on tech companies to unlock devices for people who do not have the access codes for devices left by the deceased.
The Digital Devices (Access for Next of Kin) Bill has won the support of a number of MPs from across the political spectrum and is due to receive its second reading on 6 May.
The parliamentary intervention follows a campaign by STEP for a change in the law. A survey in 2021 conducted by STEP and the Microsoft-funded Cloud Legal Project at Queen Mary University of London highlighted the extent of the problem. The report found that nearly a quarter of professional inheritance advisors had clients who had experienced difficulties accessing a family member’s digital assets, often causing significant distress and frustration. In addition, one in five respondents also mentioned an uncooperative attitude from service providers when accounts cannot be accessed.
STEP welcomes this proposal and has have been calling for a review of legislation for some time. Digital assets have become a common part of modern estate planning and estate administration, with demand for advice expected to increase significantly in future. We are seeing grieving families frequently experience difficulties accessing sentimental digital assets such as photos or videos on death or incapacity of a family member, causing distress and frustration. We are therefore urging the government to consider these access restrictions and present a clear legal solution.
Speaking to STEP, Ian Paisley MP said:
“I welcome the support from STEP that will give momentum to this important Bill. I see many constituents and hear many harrowing stories of grieving people who just want the opportunity to access the next of kin’s digital estate.
My bill will unlock that labyrinth of codes, reposition the relationship between the customer and the tech companies, and help the vulnerable at the most difficult point in their lives. Please get behind this bill by writing to your MP and urging them to support the second reading on 4 February.”
Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel & Head of Government Affairs