The 2017 Paradise Papers (13.4 million documents 1.4TB in size) and the 2016 Panama Papers (11.5 million documents 2.6TB in size) represent two of the largest data leaks in history. These are related leaks due to the substantial focus on off-shore tax havens and shell corporations.
According to Wikipedia, the public reaction to the Paradise Papers has been muted:
“In the United Kingdom, the public reaction to the Paradise Papers has been relatively muted compared to similar leaks in the past, such as the Panama Papers. Possible reasons include the absence of overt illegality in the information; most media sources are careful to point out that the schemes in the Paradise Papers are generally lawful. A statement on behalf of Queen Elizabeth confirmed that the Royal Estate paid full UK tax on her offshore investments.” [Source]
This page offers basic publicly available information relating to the Paradise Papers, a collection of 13.4 million confidential documents acquired from two off-shore law firms, presumably obtained through nefarious methods. We do not conduct, condone, or promote the illegal acquisition of confidential information, nor do we support its use to maliciously target individuals, organizations, or countries. This page is offered for those seeking general information and a better understanding of leaks in general and the Paradise Papers in particular.
While some people may utilize such information for purely public interest pursuits, professional study, journalistic research, or academic research, it’s also possible to use such information for personal gain, corporate espionage, political propaganda, or extortion. For example, if a potential story is buried in 13.4 million documents, even if it’s theoretically ‘publicly accessible’ it’s unlikely to have any broad public exposure or impact. If someone strategically gathers information from a massive leak, then threatens to launch a very public campaign, they could ask for money to stay quiet or at least do their part to keep the story buried. So, there’s a risk of abuse. Some other potential problems with massive leaks are listed below.
Public Support of the ‘Leaks Movement’
In recent years Wikileaks, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and other organizations have popularized the practice of obtaining confidential information and making it public. This understandably makes enemies of the many people who have their lives exposed and sometimes harmed from the leaks. In cases where individuals or corporations are breaking laws, evading taxes, and harming the public, such leaks are generally supported by the public if they help bring about justice. Such situations tend to create a surge in public support of government agencies engaging in unwarranted blanket public surveillance under the assumption that law breakers will be found and prosecuted.
In some instances there’s a ratcheting effect where public support swells when someone who has been vilified becomes the target of a leak. A high-profile example was when 24,199 pages of Sarah Palin’s emails were made public. Those who dislike Palin were undoubtedly overjoyed. Others probably felt is was an unwarranted political attack. Similarly, when the 2016 DNC emails were leaked, some probably felt it was a political attack, while opponents were no doubt happy to see the leak. When over 50,000 pages of emails and attachments from Hillary Clinton’s email servers were leaked, opponents were overjoyed. Her supporters undoubtedly felt it was a politically motivated attack.
So, these waves of public support for leaks cause public support of leaks to increase over time. Charismatic and influential leaders and influencers in the leaks movement include Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and others who become heroes. When stories aren’t breaking, there continue to be supporters and followers of these leaders which helps the movement grow in momentum and public support.
Journalists are enthusiast about having an opportunity to write stories about conflicts of interest and hypocrisy among politicians, for example. Leaks often point to ethical and social issues that aren’t necessarily actionable legally, but would be of interest to the general public.
How Information Becomes Public
Information is typically made public through whistle blowers, defectors, or hackers. Sometimes government or police raids of businesses will result in confiscated confidential information becoming public knowledge. Similar in impact are fully legal public requests under the Freedom of Information Act where emails and other information are made public.
Potential Problems with Massive Leaks
Here are a few possible problems with the Leaks Movement.
- Conspiracy Theories. Those with conspiracy theories they want to prove, or a belief system they wish to promote, will assemble any evidence that supports their theory and reject any facts that challenge their theory. Massive leaks provide plenty of data for people to selectively fish through. Such people may hand pick ‘evidence’ that supports their theory, and then present that evidence in a convincing way to manipulate others. It’s not balanced, broad, and seeking reach an understanding. It’s seeking to prove a point. Even supposedly impartial investigative journalists can unwittingly let their own biases guide them.
- Crowd-sourced Justice. In an age of cryptocurrency where global citizens are connecting and gaining control over traditional power centers of society, there’s much mistrust in government, police, and the justice system. So, a crowd-based justice system is an appealing alternative. There’s a push to have more information leaked to the public, where people can make their own conclusions about leaders, companies, and governments, then take appropriate actions in the form of protests, boycotts, black-bloc riots, or hacker attacks. For some it seems like the perfect anarchist solution to the democratization of justice where the people decide the verdict and punishment for those who break the consensus moral code.
- Due Process. When government agencies and law enforcement work together to investigate crime, they obtain warrants and conduct their work confidentially to protect the innocent. Anyone accused will be given a lawyer and a right to a trial. They will hopefully receive a fair trail and their obligation to pay restitution should be equivalent to others who have committed similar crimes. With leaks, people are judged and prosecuted by the public where the outcome can destroy a person’s life in a manner disproportionately to their crime.
- Endangerment. People working undercover or otherwise attempting to assist in a case become exposed and could have their lives put in danger. People in the news under public scrutiny are targeted and sometimes have their private phone numbers, home address, social security number, and information about family members made public. This can result in mobs showing up at people’s homes, and sometimes personal attacks.
- Equal Justice. As mentioned above, the normal legal process ensures that people are investigated and given a right to a trial where, if found guilty, their punishment will be equal to those having conducted similar crimes. With massive leaks, public response and outcome are unpredictable.
- Incomplete Information. While massive leaks are usually somewhat comprehensive, they are usually limited to collections of emails or certain databases of information. They typically don’t contain information from phone calls and private meetings that may provide an important context for understanding what was leaked.
- Indiscriminate. During an investigation, usually an effort is made to obtain and admit to evident only information pertinent in a case. With massive leaks, there’s typically no such effort made. Instead, massive amounts of data are released indiscriminately impacting many people.
- Misuse. A disgruntled employee, ex lover, or other person wishing to harm a company or other individual could use a leak as a way to get back at someone.
- Mob Rule. Leaks can result in ‘mob rule’ rather than a rational process of discovery. For example, in July 2018 it was reported by NPR that rumors spreading through WhatsApp are resulting in mob killing in India. In the United States, the #MeToo movement has resulted in perpetrators having their careers destroyed and lives ruined because of behavior ranging from inappropriate or offensive to illegal and severely injurious of others. Regardless of the behavior, the outcomes are very similar. While the punishment may seem deserving, it’s not measured out perportionately.
- Plea Bargains. In an investigation and trail, it’s possible for authorities to leverage their relationship with informants by offering deals. In such situations, much more information of strategic value can be obtained.
- Proper Channels. Usually when a crime is committed, people call the police or contact the appropriate government authorities. In some cases, investigations may already be underway. The proper authorities are the most effective and appropriate people to investigate and prosecute. If an investigation is already underway, it’s often essential to maintain confidentiality as evidence is gathered. High-visibility massive public leaks quickly tip-off criminals so they can destroy evidence, shut down operations, and skip town. If a leak happens just prior to a government raid (for example), then criminals can escape being apprehended. If you see a bank robbery and call the news paper rather than 911, there may be a great story for the news journalists to report, but it may hinder apprehending the criminals and protecting the public.
- Tampering with Evidence. While we can assume that all or most of the information contained in high-profile leaks is trustworthy and accurate, coordinated leaks of intentional leaks could be a way to release false information to the public. It’s difficult to determine the authenticity of documents, or know if they have been tampered with. In a normal investigation by police or government authorities, evidence is closely guarded to ensure it’s not tampered with. Hopefully all those involved in an investigation are impartial.
- Witness Protection. Witnesses and informants are especially helpful when investigating a case. When their identities can be protected, they are more valuable. In a massive leak, everyone involved is exposed and those who might have become informants privately are now pressured to not turn state’s evidence.
The Paradise Papers
Wikipedia describes the Paradise Papers as follows:
“The Paradise Papers are a set of 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments that were leaked to the German reporters Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer from the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and a network of more than 380 journalists. Some of the details were made public on 5 November 2017 and stories are still being released. The documents originate from legal firm Appleby, the corporate services providers Estera and Asiaciti Trust, and business registries in 19 tax jurisdictions. They contain the names of more than 120,000 people and companies.” [Source]
Below are some videos relating to the Paradise Papers.
Vice Media – 13 Nov 2017
CBC Canada – 8 Nov 2017
Four Corners Australia – 8 Nov 2017
CBC Canada – 6 Nov 2017
MSNBC – 6 Nov 2017
ICIJ – 5 Nov 2017
BBC – 5 Nov 2017
CBC News Canada – 5 Nov 2017
Info Graphic by Ken Boyd
Below is an info-graphic created by Ken Boyd with some facts about the Paradise Papers. [source]