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Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier

Technological changes are always faster than the rate of legislation. Usually, legislation is done as a reaction to some occurrences and seeks to close emerging loopholes. The development of technology comes with a related code of ethics to guide operations which may not legally binding.

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The case of John Ellsworth whose 20-year-old son John M. Ellsworth was killed in Iraq leaving behind an email account presents a debate on the role of ethics and the law in upholding information privacy. Before death, Justin had an email account that he used to communicate with his parents back in the US. Upon death, his father’s wish to access the email account was denied by Yahoo the email service provider by refusing to give the password. The reason was that there existed a private policy clause in the terms of engagement and that Yahoo was not willing to flaunt those terms. John took the matter to court to have it resolved and managed to get the CD containing the email account’s contents.

The question of whether the parents had the right to get access to the e-mail accounts became the debate. Many saw the grant of access as a violation of the terms of engagement while others thought this was okay as the email constituted part of the deceased estate.

Several issues emerge in the decision of the court to grant access to the contents to the parents. First, the son never indicated in his will the need to access his email account. This shows that he may not have wanted anybody else to see the contents of the mail. Secondly, there exists a system within the military where anyone going to a dangerous battle zone would leave their will and a separate encasing addressed to the person of choice. Since Justin did not include the password of the e-mail in any of the will or the encasing, then he never intended for anybody to access his mail.

Deontological ethics focuses on the act rather than the consequence in determining whether something is right or wrong. The decision by Yahoo to deny access was right. It was based on the agreement between Justin and the service provider. It was thus unethical to go against the agreement. This was upheld regardless of the consequences in the form of denying the parents the satisfaction of seeing their son’s last words.

Indeed the wrongness of an act depends on its violation of a good promoting rule even if the act optimally promotes the good. In this regard, the action of the service provider may not be viewed as optimally promoting good but neither did it violate the good promoting rule. In this case, allowing access to the email does not amount to promoting good as it involves the contravention of the privacy rule.

The action of the courts hence contravened deontological considerations by focusing on the consequences of not granting access to the parents. The court acted in a manner that grants Justin’s family the happiness of reading the contents of his email while disregarding the agreement between Justin and yahoo. Clearly, it considered the outcome instead of the violation of the terms agreed between Yahoo and Justin.

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Utilitarianism on the other hand asses the rightness of an action based on its contribution to utility. The utility here refers to the happiness for all. It considers the consequences of an action first overlooking the action itself. Utility in the case of John is the happiness derived from accessing the contents of the email for the whole family. Clearly, the action of the court was aimed at maximizing the moral worth regardless of the rightness of the action. The consequences of not granting access to the email would have been more sorrow on the part of the family.

The lack of clear rules led to the biased consideration of utilitarianism by the courts. The decision by the courts is however not acceptable to many who would not like their parents or close relatives to know some secrets about them. Some people may have secrets in terms of their associations, morality, or dealings and whose exposure would cause great harm to their reputation. This brings a conflict between the interests of the bereaved and those of the deceased.

On this note, it is the view of the writer of this paper that the court’s decision to grant access to the email was wrong. Justin may not have wished anyone to access the mail upon his death. This was probably the reason why he never gave the password to anyone or include it in his will. This is best supported by the fact that after the access, not much useful information could be obtained from the contents. Only the emails previously sent to the family and their replies as well as some information from dating agencies were in the mail. The precedent set by the court ruling has many worried. Considering the consequences and not the action can cause great harm. It is thus important to have legislation that directs the handling of private information especially with the advent of information technology.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 31). Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 31). Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier. https://studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/

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"Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier." StudyCorgi, 31 Oct. 2021, studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier." October 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/.


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StudyCorgi. "Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier." October 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier." October 31, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/informational-privacy-issue-of-a-killed-soldier/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Informational Privacy Issue of a Killed Soldier'. 31 October.

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