Mr. Letterman disappears


Mr. Letterman loved New York City, and he loved his profession. He had graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1966 and had worked for a year for the New York City Corporation Council’s office. He was a shy and friendly person and a very good lawyer. He certainly did not not have a reputation for aggressiveness, appearing almost apologetical as he was presenting his cases with a polite old-school manner. He did meticulous research and was a sharp analyst. Rudeness aggrieved him. He distinguished himself by winning his cases in an inexorably kind manner.

His parents had been doctors in Brooklyn. He had a sister who was almost 14 years his senior and who had taken over their parents medical practice as they both retired towards the end of his law school time. It had seemed a natural choice that he would do medical malpractice litigation but it had been too obvious a choice for him. Instead he had set up his offices in a small place near the Empire State building and had started to defend New York property owners in claims involving the wide range of problems the city dealt out to them on a daily basis: property damage, negligent hiring, inadequate security, lead poisoning, bodily injury on the premises, intentional assault, arson, and fraud. He was well known in his area of expertise, and he had seen every kind of  human misery conceivable. He was a New York lawyer.

He rarely met clients in his offices. Instead he preferred to sit by the window in a small coffeeshop until well after lunch time, taking notes while clients sat opposite him in the booth that was reserved for him on weekdays. After lunch he quietly slipped out of his booth, payed his bill, left a generous tip and crossed the street. On court days his booth remained empty. Afternoons and evenings he spent at the office working on legal briefs.

He led a typical New York life. If he made a lot of money he certainly did not show off or took a lot of time to spend it. In some ways his taste was very simple. He loved his coffee black, no sugar. He knew who he was and what he liked, but he did not need to talk about it.

He would never tire of his corner of the city. He thought the Empire State building was the world second most beautiful manmade sight. First was the Brooklyn bridge. He considered himself a man born at the right time in the right place.

In 1996, when I started as an intern at O´Leary and Letterman LLP I did not know any of this. In fact, I only knew Mr. Letterman by name, and I never met a staff member of an associate who seemed to have either met him or who had the willingness to share their knowledge if they were in possession of it. Over time I wondered if he even existed or if Mr. O´Leary had simply invented him for the sake of a better company name.

Die Strafprozessordnung als Mittel zur Restitution von NS-Raubkunst?

Jenen, die mir im Zusammenhang mit meinem kurzen dpa-Interview zu der von den von Herrn Cornelius Gurlitt beauftragten Rechtsanwälte eingelegten Beschwerde gegen die Beschlagnahme der Bilder aus der Schwabinger Wohnung, geschrieben haben:

Vielen Dank, dass Sie sich die Zeit genommen haben, Ihre Meinung zu dem Vorgehen der Ermittlungsbehörden im Fall Gurlitt zu artikulieren. In der Tat halte ich die Strafprozessordnung nicht für das geeignete Mittel, eine Restitution von NS-Raubkunst auf rechtsstaatlichem Wege zu erreichen. Wie Sie dem Artikel auch entnehmen konnten, plädiere ich hingegen dafür, dass wir den Erben der rechtmäßigen Eigentümer endlich durch entsprechende Gesetzgebung die rechtlichen Instrumentarien zur Restitution bereit stellen, um erlittenes Unrecht jedenfalls so weit wieder auszugleichen, wie das durch die Rückgabe der Bilder an die Erben geschehen kann.

Dass ich fordere, dass dies mit rechtsstaatlichen Mitteln zu geschehen habe, ist in meinen Augen eine demokratische Grundforderung, die ich gerade in Hinsicht auf die Erfahrungen unseres Landes während des NS-Regimes für unerlässlich halte.

Vielleicht können Sie selbst durch engagierte Meinungsbildung bei Ihren Vertretern im Bundestag dazu beitragen, dass ein Gesetz zur Restitution von NS-Raubkunst verabschiedet wird. Ich weiß aus meiner Arbeit mit Jugendlichen, dass auch unter jungen Menschen der Wunsch zu einem Ausgleich des maßlosen Unrechts, das jüdischen Mitbürgern während des NS- Regimes zugefügt wurde, weit verbreitet ist und nach wie vor viele Menschen eben gerade nicht der Meinung sind, dass “dies alles lang zurückliegt”.

Come on: Does it really matter who has access to our private data?

English: A page from American Civil Liberties ...

English: A page from American Civil Liberties Union v. Ashcroft. This image was made public by the ACLU (from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you don’t speak up for everybody’s rights you have to prepare for your own rights to be trampled when you least expect it.” David Sirota

“Powerful digital technologies can be abused to carve away at civil liberties.”

In response to that excellent contribution to the discussion by the NYTimes of today (see above link): Even the most liberal systems have an inherent tendency towards a restriction of  civil right positions. Civil rights are, by nature and design, inconvenient, inefficient, administratively annoying – but absolutely necessary for the upkeep of democracy. Because systems in themselves for a variety of reasons, some of them plainly administrative, have a spin towards restriction of individual rights, civil rights have to be constantly and equally system inherently defended against that tendency – this has to be understood as a necessary premise for any kind of democratic system.  Due to the system inherent tendency to restriction, the ability of the executive branch to gain access to the totality of data that makes all branches – including the political dialog –  transparent, is especially worrisome from a cicil rights point of view because it enables to influence the democratic process and dialog that defends cicil rights even before it starts. access to a totality of information carries the foreboding of totalitarian systems.

We have known this for at least thirty years, and it is part of the understanding of the constitution of the United States as well as of the constitution of Germany that the idea has been firmly established that an individual has the right to keep control over what you would now call data, but what then was simply called privacy and freedom of speech.

What is new is that this problem is not limited to one country. Single branch control exerted by privileged access to individual and governmental data alike, made possible by the use of powerful digital technology, if not contested by citizens world wide, will lead to an immense loss of civil rights and constitutional guarantees – world wide. Uncontrolled access to data will prepare the way for an ascent of totalitarian systems, possibly cooperating, totalitarian systems world wide. it is not the world we want to live in.

we need to start developing democratic, predictable and controllable systems and corresponding requirements for legal access to the use of data, country by country, world wide – right now. most of all we need to raise the wide spread awareness that to defend our constitutional values and civil rights we need to demand of our political systems to treat our data with the same respect that they are obliged to obey at least by the letter in treating the individual. we need to know that it matters who accesses our private data, who reads our emails – even if we are just writing down a few lines to grandma or jotting down a recipe.