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Toronto Widow Battles Tech Giant Over Access to Account Shared with Late Husband

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Toronto Widow Battles Tech Giant Over Access to Account Shared with Late Husband

As the CBC reported recently, a Toronto woman whose husband passed away has found herself in an unwanted 4-year legal battle with Apple, the U.S-based technology giant.

After 41 years of marriage, Carol Anne Noble’s husband Don passed away in 2016 from rare form of cancer.  At that time, she promised him that she would fulfil his dying wish, which was to complete writing a book for his family that he had been working on during the last six months of his life.  It chronicled the progress of his slow-moving disease, and was written in journal form on an Apple device.

To fulfil that promise, Carol Anne contacted Apple to ask them to give her access to her husband’s online files.  Although the files were stored on an account she and Don shared, she had forgotten the password.

Apple refused.  Even though she was her husband’s executor and the sole beneficiary of his estate, Apple said it could not give out the password to Carol Anne because the account was in Don’s name alone.  However, Apple initially told her she could merely provide proof that she had the sole legal right to Don’s estate; however this information was soon recanted by Apple and she found herself in an unexpected legal dispute that invoked a U.S. law passed in 1986 and known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Under that law Carol Anne would need to obtain a court order before she could have access to Don’s files.  That U.S. statute was originally written to limit government and police surveillance, and to preclude corporations from sharing certain personal electronic information.  Arguably, the law is now outdated when viewed in a more contemporary context, where people of all ages use social media, and where the concept of digital asset ownership is commonplace.

After several years of trying on her own to get information from Apple about how to get the court order and what it needs to contain, Carol Anne has hired a Canadian lawyer to assist her with the process of applying to the U.S. court.  Apparently it could cost thousands of dollars to obtain the order she needs to unlock Don’s files.

Going-forward, Carol Anne argues that Apple should make it clearer to new accountholders that they may be subject to these onerous U.S. laws, and invites Canadian provincial governments to address the issue as well.

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.