Person's digital life dies with them unless consumers plan ahead



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Debbie Rosenberg never thought she'd have to go through the pain of losing a child.

Her son committed suicide, and what led up to his death remains a mystery. The answer could be locked away in his iPhone.

"I can't get into his phone," Rosenburg said. "We do know that he had some activity that night on the phone. I wanted to know if there were text messages or anything to give me some clue of what happened."

What's happening to Rosenberg is a tragic example of an up and coming issue: A person's digital life – pictures, songs, books and emails – die with them unless there's a plan ahead of time.

"In the old days, if I had a rare book collection or a rare CD collection, I could hand that on and nobody would care," said Ryan Elridge with Nerds on Call. "But now with everything being in the cloud and everything being digital, it makes it more difficult to pass that stuff on."

Elridge said it's a problem his company sees a lot. There's no legal way to pass on digital belongings.

"It's gone. Because it's only licensed to you," Elridge said. "She won't be able to get that. She won't be able to petition Apple to get into your digital media."

It's because of digital rights management and licensing. When a person buys through iTunes or Amazon, the consumer is only purchasing a license for use and it's only good for that user.

The solution is digital estate planning.

Some states have laws assisting a digital estate. North Carolina is among a handful that have proposals for similar laws, but none of those laws could matter:

Since Apple is in California, it can ignore other state laws.

For now, people can leave behind a list of passwords. Rosenberg has made her list, but it doesn't help get into her son's phone.

"There might not be answers on that phone, but that answer might be there," she said. "And as hard it might be to deal with, it's not any harder than losing your child to suicide."