Technically the title should be Things to do With Encryption…, but then I wouldn’t have a semi-obscure movie reference.

Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing linked to a column of his over at The Guardian entitled If I’m dead how will my loved ones break my password?. As a new father myself, I recently went through the estate planning process with my lawyer, and this is one issue I’ve long thought needed more attention. A few years ago I even considered building a startup around it.

Much of my important data is encrypted – especially logins to bank accounts and such. Also, a fair bit of my other data is either encrypted, or protected in ways many of you fair readers could circumvent, but my family members can’t. I also have a ton of “personal institutional knowledge” in my head – everything from how to keep this blog running, to locations of family photos, to all the old email correspondence I kept when my wife and I started dating. If I get hit by a truck (or, more likely, kill myself in some bizarrely stupid way right after saying, “okay, check this out”), all of that would either be lost to the ether, or complex to recover.

Heck, I have content that might be important to my family in applications in virtual machines on encrypted drives.

Part of my estate planning process is ensuring that not only do my family and business partners have access to this information if I’m not around, but that they’ll know where the important bits are in the first place.

Unlike Cory I’m not concerned with using split keys in different countries to prevent exposure to the government, but I also don’t think I’m as organized as he is in terms of where I keep everything.

Thus, as part of my estate planning, I’m looking at the best way to make this information available on the off chance my sense of self-preservation fails to mature. Here’s the plan right now:

  1. Compile my passphrases, locations of important information, and other documentation into a single repository. I’m considering using 1Password since it already has the logins to nearly everything, I use it daily, and it can export to an encrypted PDF or a few other formats. 1Password supports secure notes for random instructions and other documentation.
  2. On a regular basis, I will export the information to an encrypted file which I’ll provide to my lawyer, and store in a secure online repository. I have a lot of options for this, but for the rest of you it might be better to set up a Hotmail/Yahoo/Whatever email account you don’t ever use for anything else, and send it there. You can then give your lawyer or executor access to that account (remember, the contents up there are still encrypted). This makes it easy to keep the information up to date, and it’s protected from your lawyer’s office burning down with your encrypted hard drive. It may be worth it to use two different services, just in case. Remember that if your lawyer doesn’t have direct access, it may be difficult for him/her to legally obtain access after death.
  3. I’ll give my lawyer the locations of the information and the passphrase for my 1Password export in a sealed envelope. Since he’s my brother in law, and might be with me when I accidentally blow up that propane tank, I’ll make sure his partner also has a copy in a separate physical location.

That should cover it – my information is still protected (assuming I trust my lawyer), and it includes logins, locations of important electronic documents, and so on. I’m in the middle of setting this up, and haven’t even talked to my lawyer about the details yet, but it’s as important as any other aspects of my trust.

A separate issue, and the other half of my vaporware startup, is what happens to all my correspondence/photos/movies after I die? Historically, the archives of individuals, handed down through generations, are an important part of the human record. This isn’t just an ego thing – letters and photos of regular folks are as important to historians over the ages. Right now, as a society, this isn’t an issue we’ve really addressed.