Two Sure Things in Life: Death & Facebook

I don't know the answers, and neither do Facebook, Twitter, or academics like Kasket. But we need answers soon. Now that the majority of Americans over the age of 14 have Facebook profiles, the question of post-mortem privacy soon will move from the periphery of the national consciousness to its very center. As I've written many times, the United States desperately needs a federal privacy policy that protects citizens' identities across all mediums, from paper documents to online files. That policy must include strong security protocols across all crucial infrastructure and data systems, and rules for how victims should be notified after a data breach.

A national privacy policy also needs rules regarding what happens to our online profiles after we die. This policy won't take shape overnight. As we saw with Congress's disgraceful punting of the cybersecurity bill this summer, even common-sense, apolitical proposals morph into political footballs when the overgrown children in Washington decide it's in their short-term partisan advantage.

That said, regardless of what our leaders (I use that term advisedly) do, or don't do, we are still -- and always will be -- the ultimate guardians of our reputations and our identities. They are assets that are just as valuable, perhaps even more so, than our homes, our stocks and our bonds. We must build, nurture, manage and protect them with the same skill and vigilance that we demand of the professional money managers who run our investment portfolios, as I wrote about here. Our online personas are part of that basket of assets that must be intelligently managed so as not to put ourselves or our families at risk, even after we die.

Just as every adult should have a will detailing the distribution of their assets upon death, every will should include a section regarding the disposition of one's online accounts. Do you want your Facebook profile shut down, or left in place? Do you want your Twitter feed shut off, or have you gained such a following and a track record of funny, insightful tweets that a trusted work colleague might well continue tweeting in your stead?

The bottom line -- don't wait for or delegate to Facebook or the government the protection of your reputation, they have neither the urgency nor the stake you do.

Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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