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Death & Digital Identities


In the not so distant future, Jane Doe has several virtual selves, a digital medical twin, numerous social websites where she has her own digital identities, and some commercial and/or government services where her behavioral/biometric data is stored

By Guy Huntington

Guy Huntington

What happens to all of this when she dies? Long after Jane is dead, her virtual selves, digital twins continue on digitally living, processing data and possibly still acting on her behalf. That’s what this post discusses.

Emerging Reality

Most people are unaware of the following:

•Virtual selves are now here, are already “smarter than us” and, in the not so distant future, will be operating on our behalf commercially

•Digital medical twins are just emerging – they’ll be used to model our bodies

•AI/VR services are now being offered where a person can interact virtually with a dead person


In the thought paper “Digital Twins/Virtual Selves, Identity, Security & Death”, I explore all the above. The ramifications are significant:

•How is a digital version of ourselves legally identified?

•How is it tied to our own physical legal identity?

•What happens to these “thinking and acting” digital identities after we die?

•Can our digital, biometric and behavioral data can be used after we die?

•What types of new laws/regulations are required to address the above?

•How will they be enforced, given that digital entities of ourselves can be created in many different jurisdictions and also operate in different jurisdictions? – Recalling that today, the success rate of prosecuting cybercrime is a paltry 5% due to cross-border activities by criminals, who remain outside prosecution

•How will digital entities be terminated?

•What new kinds of ethics are required addressing all of the above?

Increasingly Smart Bots

The lines are blurring between what we think of as us and our digital selves. For instance in this thought paper “Artificial Intelligence & Legal Identification”, it discusses Microsoft’s Xiaoice, used by over 600 million people. These chat bots are becoming increasingly “smart”, with the average person taking 10 minutes to realize they’re talking to a bot and not a real person.

What happens in the not so distant future, when these types of personal bots act on our behalf? When do they need to become legally registered? What happens to these when we die?

LSSI – A New Age Legal Toolkit

Together with Michael Kleeman, we wrote two proposals rethinking human and AI system/bot legal identities. It creates a legal self-sovereign identity (LSSI). Our premise is the underlying legal physical identity need to be rethought, to which can then be attached legal digital identities.

Thus, regardless of how many digital identities a person creates, they should be tied to a singular physical legal identity. The LSSI is the starting point in rethinking a new legal toolkit addressing digital identities.

Yet, it’s much more complicated than this. Why?

Fraud 4.0

In the not so distant future, digital identities of a person can be created by the tens, hundreds or thousands per second. Further, a human digital identity can be created in one jurisdiction and, in the next instance, be operating in another or many other jurisdictions. That’s why, in the Digital Twins paper, I state it’s early days of Fraud 4.0. Criminals will leap to leveraging these to masquerade digitally as a person, for criminal financial gain.

New Age Global CRVS Locally Managed

This requires an additional new legal tool – a rethought civil registration vital statistics (CRVS) service. It needs to be able to globally search all other CRVS’s to see if the digital identity already exists and, if not, then instantly create a new legal digital identity, which is securely stored in the digital identity code. The CRVS thus must be global, but locally managed in each jurisdiction.

Do All Human Digital Identities Need to Be Legally Registered?

No. It should be based on risk. As the financial, contractual and criminal risk rises, at some point the human digital identities will require legal registration.

Legal Death, Formal Notification, Voluntary Notification and Legal Digital Termination

New CRVS death processes and laws need to be created:

•When a person physically dies, the CRVS must push out the death notice such that the other CRVS systems around the planet are notified and/or written into systems like Blockchain

•Additionally, the public should also be able to instantly determine Jane Doe’s death

•Legal digital identities for Jane Doe must then go through some kind of legal processes. They might be put into some kind of legal status where the actions of the digital identity are either not possible or, tightly controlled

•The executor, or failing this the government, might then be required to notify enterprises and/or people who have registered legal liabilities with the person’s physical identity and/or digital identities

•The person might, before they died, have voluntary registered certain social media, personal databases, etc. to be notified when they die. Thus, the CRVS would securely send out official notification to them

•At some point, the legal digital identities will likely be required to be legally terminated

Rapid Pace of Change

In the bot proposal paper, we discuss the rapid rate of technological change requiring a new, global, independent, legal identity test institute. This applies to digital human identities as well. Criminals will be the first to take advantage of new weaknesses and quickly leverage it. Thus, it requires jurisdictions to equally respond to different threat levels in the same manner. Thus, we’re bringing industry best practices to the world of human and AI system/bot legal identity.

Behavioral/Biometric Data

I wrote more than 30 papers, from the bedroom to the boardroom, describing how our personal behavioral/biometric data increasingly flows, each second into large commercial databases. What happens to this data when we die? Who can use it? Do we have any legal say in this?

Looking a Bit Further Into the Future

One can see development of a combination of virtual and physical bots which can act of Jane Doe’s behalf. What happens to these when she dies? They can not only continue on digitally, but also physically.

Yes, Death is Complicated!

As the planet digitally shrinks, it means we need to rethink all aspects of human and digital identities. The above illustrates the challenges when we die to our physical and digital identities. Since electrons instantly whiz around the planet, it’s not something one company or one government can solve on their own.

LSSI’s Time Has Come

We require a new legal identity toolkit to deal with the challenges this post has illustrated. LSSI is the starting foundational piece, upon which new laws, regulations and contracts can be based on.

Source: Linkedin

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