Court rules federal law doesn't bar e-mail provider from handing over dead man's messages to his estate

The Supreme Judicial Court today rejected Yahoo's efforts to bar a dead man's brother and sister from seeing the contents of his inbox, at least under federal law. Still at issue, though: Whether a section of Yahoo's terms of service agreement lets it withhold the e-mail simply because it feels like it.

The state's highest court ruled that while Congress did enact legislation to protect e-mail privacy in 1986, it included certain exemptions, including one that requires disclosure of e-mail with "the lawful consent" of the author or recipient.

Now, John Ajemian couldn't give consent, since he died in a bicycle crash in 2006. But his brother and sister, appointed by a probate judge to handle his estate, were able to provide "lawful consent," under decades, if not centuries, of common law, the court said. And while Congress could have overwritten that in the Stored Communications Act, it did not, the justices wrote, and so therefore, Yahoo could turn over Ajemian's e-mail.

Congress enacted the SCA against a backdrop of State probate and common law allowing personal representatives to take possession of the property of the estate. To construe lawful consent as being limited to actual consent, thereby preventing personal representatives from gaining access to a decedent's stored communications, would significantly curtail the ability of personal representatives to perform their duties under State probate and common law. Most significantly, this interpretation would result in the creation of a class of digital assets -- stored communications -- that could not be marshalled.

Moreover, since e-mail accounts often contain billing and other financial information, which was once readily available in paper form, an inability to access e-mail accounts could interfere with the management of a decedent's estate. See Banta, Inherit the Cloud: The Role of Private Contracts in Distributing or Deleting Digital Assets at Death, 83 Fordham L. Rev. 799, 811 (2014) (noting importance of access to online accounts to individuals trying to manage deceased person's estate).

Nothing in the statutory language or the legislative history of the SCA evinces a clear congressional intent to intrude upon State prerogatives with respect to personal representatives of a decedent's estate.

But after saying all that (and more), the justices concluded that while the SCA does not mean Yahoo couldn't turn over the records, it also didn't say it had to. And that brought the court to Yahoo's other argument, that its terms-of-service agreement that Ajemian had to agree to let it withhold the e-mail for any reason it chose, and that it chose not to let his brother and sister have his e-mail.

To deal with that, the justices sent the issue back to probate court, where a judge in the case had earlier ruled he just didn't have enough evidence to decide whether Ajemian ever saw the contract clause, and so rejected Yahoo's request to simply throw the case out because of the terms of service.

Don't laugh: Planners look to make routes 9 and 30 on Natick/Framingham line pedestrian friendly

The Golden Triangle Planning Study is looking at improvements to the mall capital of Massachusetts, bordered by routes 9 and 30 and Speen Street.

Among the proposals: Pedestrian bridges across Rte. 9 and Speen Street, which planners think would encourage people to get out of their cars and walk by making it actually safe to do so.

It's the latest study in decades of attempts to do something about the area - going back to the days when the intersection of Speen Street and Rte. 9 was changed into a mutant rotary that became known as the Beetleback after the editor of the then South Middlesex News noticed its similarity on a map to a bug seen from above.

Later, planners considered adding a second deck to Rte. 9, with a tunnel for pedestrians, even as Flutie Pass was being built to remove mall-to-mall traffic from Rte. 9.

Racists in court office worked to undermine Arroyo the elder, report says

The Herald reports a judge looking into the Suffolk County probate office found that while Felix Arroyo won a job for which he had no training, he was not helped by racist white workers who may have set out to sabotage him, especially after he dared to hire new employees who were not white.

In an election for an office few care about, Arroyo replaced Patty Campatelli, who, you may recall, was also suspended from the job.

Two arrested for animal cruelty after dog found dead in locked car in a parking lot

Transit Police report arresting two New Yorkers at the Salem commuter-rail parking garage yesterday evening after finding their French bulldog dead of apparent overheating after being left alone in a car for five hours.

Although the air temperature was only 73 or so, Transit Police report:

Studies have shown on an average 75 degree day the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle will raise to 122 degrees in 1 hour.

Nigil the French bulldog was 3 and died in a pool of his own vomit. The two people were taken to Transit Police headquarters in Boston for booking on a charge of animal cruelty.

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