Bill passage brings new protections for Alaskans' digital assets

I have treasured photos from prior generations and am guessing you may too. I will be sure my picture albums land in the hands of my children, but what happens to the photos I store online? Did you inherit stacks of record albums or maybe cassette tapes from a loved one? Today most Alaskans access their favorite music purchases through their modern and fancy-fangled devices such as smart phones, tablets and computers. How will they pass on these electronic “stacks” of tunes to their loved ones?

What happens to your pictures, music and all the other assets that you access through the internet or that are on your computer? Do you have any online accounts? Perhaps you have a Facebook account with posts, pictures, videos and other content that you want your loved ones to acquire. All these items hold value to you. You should have the right to seamlessly transition them to the friends and loved ones of your choosing when the time comes.

I am passionate about this because I truly believe that technological advances are key to our economic future. In my work on this topic I discovered Alaska needed to catch up with the times. When I learned that a father, whose son was a marine who died in Afghanistan, had to go through an expensive lawsuit in order to access his son’s email, I knew it was time to tackle this problem. The father simply wanted to access emailed statements and bills to responsibly take care of payments that needed to be made as well as to notify his son’s friends of the memorial service. The lengthy court process didn’t allow him to tend to either of these goals.

I started researching and working on legislation last summer with my chief of staff, Buddy Whitt and with the wonderful assistance of retired state attorney Deborah Behr of Juneau. In January, I filed Senate Bill 16, The Digital Assets Act, in the 30th Legislature. Rep. Claman was interested in carrying a companion bill to SB16 in the House, so we provided the language to him. Although SB16 passed the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee with all “do pass” votes and was on a steady track to make it through the Senate, the House fast-tracked the companion bill so it ultimately was the vehicle that passed the full legislature and was signed by the governor. My thanks to Rep. Claman for his support to address and resolve this issue for Alaskans.

The Digital Assets Act updates Alaska’s statutes and will help all Alaskans and their families. Make sure when you initially set up accounts online that you look for the option where you can designate who you’d like to pass on access to that account. If you’ve already set up accounts, look in the settings or profile sections to see where you can make these designations. You can also expressly state who you’d like to leave digital items to in your will. If you’d like your local senior center to arrange training on how you can take advantage of this new statutory provision, let them know they can contact my office at 907-376-3725 for assistance.

Sen. Shelley Hughes represents District F Chugiak/Palmer in the state legislature.

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