The Justin Ellsworth Case: A Tragedy that Raises Important Questions
It was the early hours of November 13, 2004, when 20 year old Justin Ellsworth stepped on a roadside bomb in Falluja, Iraq (Bazelon, 2006). He was serving as a Marine in the U.S. forces that were helping civilians to evacuate before a planned military offensive in Falluja, Iraq. He was at the front line, as part of the Infantry, when the incident occurred. According to his father, John Ellsworth, Justin had not been given a Marine email account and used his Yahoo account to communicate with family and friends (Bazelon, 2006).
2. Justin Ellsworth and His Family
Justin was born on May 25, 1984, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was the middle child of three siblings. When he was two years old, his family moved to Lake Orion, Michigan (Bazelon, 2006). Growing up, Justin enjoyed playing video games and hanging out with friends. He loved animals, especially horses, and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian (Bazelon, 2006).
After graduating from high school in 2002, Justin took a year off to work and save money for college. In 2003, he enrolled at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he studied pre-veterinary medicine (Bazelon, 2006). He only attended classes for one semester before enlisting in the Marine Corps in February 2004 (Bazelon, 2006).
While serving in Iraq, Justin kept in touch with his family through letters and email. In his emails home, he would often talk about his experiences in Iraq and how much he missed his family and friends (Bazelon, 2006). On November 11, 2004 – just two days before he was killed – Justin sent an email to his father in which he said: “I know everyone worries about me… Just remember that I am doing what I want to do” (Bazelon, 2006).
3. The Battle Against Yahoo
After Justin’s death, his family requested access to his Yahoo account so that they could read his emails and learn more about his time in Iraq. However, Yahoo refused to give them access to the account because it violated the company’s terms of service which state that accounts can only be accessed by the account holder or with their permission (Bazelon, 2006).
The Ellsworth family then took their case to court. In December 2005, a judge ruled in favor of Yahoo and said that the company did not have to give the family access to Justin’s account (Bazelon, 2006). The Ellsworth’s appealed the decision but lost again in September 2006 (Bazelon, 2006). Finally, after a two-year battle, Yahoo agreed to give the family access to Justin’s account in November 2006 (Bazelon 2008).
4. The Implications of the Ellsworth Case
The Ellsworth case brings up an important question: should companies relax their policies in special circumstances? In this case, it could be argued that Yahoo should have made an exception for the Ellsworth family and given them access to Justin’s account. After all, he had died while serving his country and his family deserved to know more about his time in Iraq.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that companies should not have to make exceptions for anyone. Their terms of service are there for a reason and they should not be required to break them just because someone died. In addition, if companies start making exceptions in cases like this, it could open the door for other people to start making requests that are not as deserving.
The Justin Ellsworth case is a tragedy that raises many important questions about how companies should handle special circumstances. There is no easy answer and each case must be considered on its own merits. However, it is clear that the Ellsworth family fought a long and difficult battle to gain access to Justin’s account and they deserved to know more about his time in Iraq.