Marshall Bowers

Conjurer of code. Devourer of art. Pursuer of æsthetics.

Death and Cryptography

Tuesday, December 8, 2020
314 words
2 minute read

What happens to your non-physical possessions when you die? It's a rather morbid thing to ponder, I know, but bear with me.

Physical possessions are often left to another person—surviving partner or children, perhaps—through the execution of a will. Some things, especially home furnishings, may end up in antique or consignment shops. In this sense some of these possessions that you once called your own receive new life at the hands of their new owners.

What about digital possessions? Will anyone care for your open source projects or your digital media libary after your departure from this world? While the answer to this may depend heavily on the level of interest in these digital works, the more immediate problem is one of access.

A complication that arises with digital possessions is that these are often locked away somewhere behind a set of credentials. Without possession of these credentials, the digital possessions are not accessible. Password managers help to alleviate this problem, as a well-curated password manager can hold the keys to any number of digital archives. All that is needed is to distribute the master password after your demise and the inheritors now hold all of the keys.

These sorts of provisions, while practical, are a little too familiar for my liking. I'm more interested in exploring more niche ideas in this space.

What if you generated a PGP keypair and stored the private key as part of your will? Over the course of your life you could then write journal entries and encrypt these using the public key. These writings could be stored in plain sight, but would be inaccessible to all until the release of your "dead man's" private key.

I'll have to dwell on this more, as I find these possibilities intriguing.