There is still a huge gap in modern legislation. Ownership of electronic libraries is password-protected, take streaming services subscription such as Netflix as an example, the Steam library, or cryptocurrency and even privately written trading algorithms. Does it mean that upon the person's death their IT legacy is lost?
Unfortunately, this is often the case. But it should not remain this way. A universal approach to digital inheritance should be introduced, and the Conservative Party needs to take a solid stance on this issue. With the debate around the metaverse underway, and the NFT trend, there is a huge market of digital property on the rise with yet indeterminate leadership; if the UK is among the first countries to pave the legal way for this change, it will garner economic advantages for a simple reason. A lot of investors are already using the metaverse without any existing legislation which would protect them, and the first country to introduce these measures would become a magnet for all transactions in the area. Currently, these forms of digital property are not protected; nothing prevents companies that own servers from simply cutting off the electricity, as Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan and George Steer point out in the recent Financial Times article. Legislation around digital inheritance would solidify virtual reality by making the continuation of providing metaverse services an obligation.
There are a few ideas which should guide this. Firstly, the company that provides a virtual service should be obliged to also provide it to their heir if the service is not stopped altogether, thus establishing a continuation of the metaverse. Secondly, the owner of the digital goods should be able to choose whether they want them to be inherited after their death or destroyed. The second part is crucial: it will help protect personal information and it will leave the distinction between inheritable digital goods and non-inheritable to the individual.
The potential of digital inheritance for a party that takes the lead in it is enormous. It is of great importance to the modern world, and it stands in the middle of the privacy debate; if treated correctly, it will resolve an existing issue while giving the party a strong precedent of protecting privacy.
Here is a draft of how it could be implemented in practice. All accounts, electronic libraries and personal devices could come with a special encryption key provided by their managing company, which we will refer to as a Skeleton Password. When coming into ownership of anything of the sort, a person could choose to either store or delete the Skeleton Password. By itself, the password would not provide access to any of their digital goods. However, upon the person's death, a second key would be generated by the state and privately communicated to an heir. Combined, the two keys could be used to generate a new user for the device or library in question that gets access to all the information stored. The existence of the Skeleton Password is exactly the mechanism which would ensure the suggested nature of this proposal; it also protects personal data from the state, making the death confirmation key insufficient for retrieving the information.
Should the inherited information be taxed? A conservative answer is no, or at least not much: it goes in line with the promise to effectively raise the nil rate band for inheritance, especially considering that most information either has a rather volatile monetary value or none at all. The amount of state funding required to correctly estimate the value of such assets could nullify the gains. The true benefit to the state would not be taxation, but rather the edge it would gain with investors in digital property who will clearly prefer the more secure British law for such transactions.
Another question is: how do we make a distinction between digital property and personal information? Should personal email addresses be a matter of inheritance as well? Following the example of Thatcherite economic policy, the state could choose not to make this distinction as Skeleton Passwords should provide each individual with means of regulating it themselves. Skeleton Passwords introduce a crucial free market element to this.
The uncertainty which exists in the digital world can be resolved by the Conservative Party, which should focus its attention on pushing for such change and relying on its good old pragmatism rather than struggling against scandal and trying to realize "what it means to be a conservative.” Taking a decisive stance on this issue, in fact, could become the first crucial step in restoring the reputation of the party following a series of recent missteps.