Death and Passwords

Posted on by ejames

I was discharged from the National University Hospital this morning, after rushing there in a Campus Security car at about 1.30am. I got stung by a bee and developed an anaphylactic reaction in about 15 minutes: couldn't breathe, rashes, slight shivering, all from a 2-second, extremely minor bee sting. It wasn't a life-or-death situation by any means (although I now know that having multiple bee stings would probably escalate into a life-or-death situation very quickly), but it got me thinking again about death and passwords.

In the event of a death, what would happen to my digital property? My photos, blog posts, emails and source code will likely rust in the ether of cyberspace, visible but inaccessible to my friends and family.

Worse, the organizations that depend on me would likely hit a set-back. The NUS Hackers domain and site, and the Pandamian code and site for instance, are locked under my GoDaddy, Webfaction and Linode accounts, respectively. My passing would mean no easy transfer of domains, risking the loss of these sites forever.

There should be a way to hand my digital identity out to the people I love and care for. One mechanism used to do this in the past would have been through law firms. I could theoretically will an envelope containing a stack of passwords to my friends and family after my death. But that's a fragile process - and I'm likely to change my passwords every few years or so.

A better solution might be via software. I could, theoretically, write a program that expects a response from me once a year. If I don't respond to its email prompt within one week, it emails a package of passwords (or some other arrangement - perhaps an archive of photos, thoughts and memories, in addition to passwords?) to my loved ones, in order of importance. The organizations that depend on me would naturally get all the necessary files, code, and credentials necessary for a smooth transition.

It seems like a pretty neat way of making sure I preserve my digital identity, fragile as my life is. It may not be important in the grand scale of things, but it would certainly ease my passing for those that were close to me.

Implementation details (i.e. where the program would run, how it would keep running for at least a year after the death of the person) is left as an exercise for the alert reader. I'm sure it would be a fun problem to solve.

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