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January 15. 2013 10:38PM

Bill would give NH families control of deceased member's Facebook

CONCORD - Today's social media and electronic communications didn't exist when many of New Hampshire estate laws were written, a House committee was told Tuesday.

"We need to recognize our laws have not kept up with our technology," said the prime sponsor of House Bill 116, Rep. Peter Sullivan, D-Manchester, to the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would give the executor or administrator of an estate control over the social media and electronic communications sites of the deceased.

"Somebody's online existence is part of their persona these days," said Sullivan. "But when someone dies, their online existence can live on."

He told of a friend who died a year-and-a-half ago, but whose name and image pops up in a box on Facebook urging him to attend Boston Bruins games.

And he told of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who committed suicide because of cyber-bullying. After she died, the bullying and outrageous comments continued to be posted on her Facebook page, he said. When her parents tried to take control of the page, the company said they could not.

"The taunting continued," Sullivan said. "They taunted her, her family and her friends after she died."

His bill would help bring closure to grieving families, he said, prevent cyber-bullying after someone dies and would create only a small inconvenience for the social media company.

"This is their right as a family," Sullivan said. "The family's right should take preference over a social media company."

He noted that Facebook has a policy of either memorializing the site by leaving it up, although people can continue to post comments on it, or deleting it. But he noted, the deceased's family cannot have control over the site and what is posted or deleted.

Several members were sympathetic, but indicated current law may prevent some of the problems Sullivan highlighted.

Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, noted when a person dies, all contracts end, and he would expect that to be true with Facebook pages as well.

And Rep. Larry Phillips, D-Keene, said someone may not want his or her family to have access to his or her emails.

John MacIntosh of the New Hampshire Bar Association said his association is sympathetic to the problems identified, but is not sure the bill addresses them.

"The problem is worthy of study," MacIntosh said, "but it may call for federal intervention."

The committee did not make an immediate recommendation on the bill.

grayno@unionleader.com



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