On the death of data protection pioneer Spiros Simitis – an obituary – politics
The unit of measurement for electric current is called the ampere. Electrical voltage is measured in volts and physical power in watts; it is named after the Scottish physicist James Watt. If you look for the name of a unit of measurement for the data protection is looking for, it should be called “Simitis”. The global history of data protection begins with the German-Greek Professor Spiros Simitis, it begins with a law that he developed and wrote: The Hessian Data Protection Act of 1970 was the first of its kind globally. It was a lighthouse law. Simitis, then a young German-Greek law professor in Frankfurt, built, operated and maintained this lighthouse; he was Hessian data protection officer from 1975 to 1991.
He hasn’t managed to get everyone to respect privacy; but he managed to get everyone to know him. And he’s one of the people who made it happen Federal Constitutional Court has a lot of flair for it. If the highest court recently put limits on data mining by the police, then that is also his credit.
Miracle Student and Miracle Professor
Legal scholar Spiros Simitis’ scouting for data protection began at a time when computers were still huge boxes, programmed and commanded with punched tape. Simitis then accompanied the digital development from mainframes to cloud computing. It quickly became clear to him that data protection not only protects privacy, but also democracy. The deliberate renunciation of accessible information is, he said, a basic requirement of democratic societies.
The son of a lawyer, who was born in Athens, came to Marburg at the age of 17 together with his brother Konstantin, who later became Prime Minister of Greece, to study law – with chairs for civil law, commercial and business law, labor law and legal informatics and guest professorships in Paris and Yale.
Adored by employees
He was a brilliant scholar, polyglot and sophisticated, witty and eloquent. With his wonderful singsong he cast a spell over people; he gave them his kind attention, was polite, and had a gift for flowery criticism so that it didn’t hurt; some didn’t even recognize them. He could not and did not want to hurt his employees; they were his fan club and considered it an honor to be able to work for and with him.
As a political but never party-political professor, he was otherwise very determined in his opinion and his arguments, could explain things in their broader context and draw long and clear lines. He didn’t bother pointing out problems, he tried to find meaningful solutions to them; he garnished it all with little stories and anecdotes. He was an international luminary on numerous national and international bodies and in three very different areas of law – data protection law, family law and employment law.
In labor law, he greatly influenced the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court on co-determination in companies, the Simitis report was included in the groundbreaking decision of 1979: the highest court rejected the employer’s complaint against the industry-independent equal co-determination of employee representatives, which proved the law of 1976 occupy half of the respective entrepreneurial supervisory body. In family and children’s law, Simitis was among the first to take up the “welfare of the child”, develop it into a legal category and thus provide the impetus for it to be included as a standard in the laws found. Maybe it had to do with domestic conversations: his wife, a psychoanalyst, worked with Anna Freud.
Most recently, she accompanied her husband during years of serious illness. Spiros Simitis died last Saturday at the age of 88 in Koenigstein (Taunus). He is one of the scholars who shaped the history of the Federal Republic.