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Summary of the MLR Workshop ‘Emerging Technologies, Personality Laws and the Dead’

A recent workshop on ‘Emerging Technologies, Personality Laws and the Dead’ held virtually on Monday 19th April, sponsored by The Modern Law Review, brought together academics from various disciplines, legal practitioners and other key experts to discuss a range of issues surrounding privacy and personality rights of the dead in the digital era.

With predictions that the deceased on social media sites such as Facebook could outnumber the living in as little as 50 years, a huge amount of personal data and information is being amassed. However, there are scant steps to address this, with few social media sites addressing the matter of post-mortem privacy, combined with little awareness, particularly from members of the public, as to their wishes about future treatment of such data. This is further complicated by the emergence of new services that enable the creation of chatbots, holograms or deepfakes of a deceased’s individual, bringing issues of copyright, privacy, data protection and competing interests of the deceased, their families, friends and society to the forefront once more.

The workshop, which drew on the experience of those in the fields of psychology, philosophy, sociology, politics, education, death studies, media studies, feminist science, human-computer interaction, law and technology studies from across the globe, highlighted a number of recurring key themes, and suggested a number of actions following the workshop. These actions included the need for greater education and awareness on the matter, law reforms, along with greater transparency of platforms in accessing and sharing data. The full position paper can be accessed here.

The workshop was facilitated by members of the Leverhulme-funded research group “Modern Technologies, Privacy Law and the Dead”, which include Dr Edina Harbinja and Dr Marisa McVey at Aston University, Dr Remigius N. Nwabueze, Professor Uta Kohl and Dr Holly Hancock at the University of Southampton, and Professor Lilian Edwards at Newcastle University. The broader project argues for a paradigm shift in the law of privacy in favour of recognising and protecting a person after death.

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