Terabyte-Sized 'Panama Papers' Leak Confirms The Continuing Rise Of The Super-Whistleblowers

from the who's-next? dept

As you may have noticed on Twitter and across social media, a big leak of documents from Mossack Fonseca, a global law firm based in Panama, took place over the weekend. Actually, to call the Panama Papers leak "big" is something of an understatement:

11.5 million records, dating back nearly 40 years -- making it the largest leak in offshore history. Contains details on more than 214,000 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories. Company owners in billionaires, sports stars, drug smugglers and fraudsters.
The main Panama Papers site run by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists notes this bounty has provoked the "largest cross-border collaboration ever"; dozens of media sites are involved, although curiously few from the US. That means in-depth analysis of the implications of these documents for the rich, the powerful, the criminals and the companies they created will be appearing for many weeks, if not months. So there's little point trying to second-guess what will emerge, not least because there is no public access to the documents involved, making deeper analysis impossible.

Fortunately, here on Techdirt we're interested in a few specialized angles. For example, the tech side. The Guardian states that the the Panama Papers total 2.6 terabytes of data, which dwarfs earlier leaks of financial documents: the HSBC files are 3.3 gigabytes, the Luxembourg tax files 4.4 gigabytes, and the so-called "offshore secrets" files total 260 gigabytes, while Wikileaks is a mere 1.7 gigabytes.

A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable to "exfiltrate" terabytes of data like this. That in itself was a powerful brake on massive leaks. But today you can buy a portable, pocket-sized USB hard disk drive with a capacity of several terabytes for tens of dollars, with prices continuing to fall -- thanks to Kryder's Law and other factors. As a result, we are seeing leak inflation: where whistleblowers first grabbed megabytes and then gigabytes, but they now take terabytes, simply because they can. Why settle for a partial set, and risk leaving behind the juicy stuff, when you can simply "collect it all" (now, where have we heard that before?)

So leaks are likely to get bigger. They may also become more common. The more high-profile whistleblowers there are, the more others are likely to be inspired to do the same. That fact has not gone unnoticed in the corporate world. In an evident attempt to stem the flow of embarrassing leaks, companies have been pushing for more laws to protect their "trade secrets." For example, as Techdirt noted last year, TPP includes stronger protection, and TAFTA/TTIP will have it too. Even before TTIP is likely to require it, the EU is proposing to bring in new laws to beef up protection for corporate trade secrets:

A small group of lobbyists working for large multinational companies (Dupont, General Electric, Intel, Nestlé, Michelin, Safran, Alstom…) convinced the European Commission to draft such a legislation, and helped it all along the way. The problem is that they were too successful in their lobbying: they transformed a legislation which should have regulated fair competition between companies into something resembling a blanket right to corporate secrecy, which now threatens anyone in society who sometimes needs access to companies' internal information without their consent: consumers, employees, journalists, scientists...
As that post from Corporate Europe Observatory puts it, we are witnessing attempts to enshrine a new "right to corporate secrecy" around the world. That's the bad news; the good news is that it's getting easier for anyone to be a super-whistleblower on a massive scale. Recognizing the value of such leaks, the Greens in the European Parliament hope to present a proposal for laws protecting whistleblowers across Europe. There's not much hope it will be adopted at this stage, but it's a further sign of how important this whole area has become.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 11:43am

    and as they dont seem to be able to do anything singly, the USA and the UK will be kicking up a shit storm over the leaks, rather than doing something to stop the rich and powerful from remaining exactly like that and not paying as much even as ordinary workers do in tax!!
    and dont forget the reminder we had a week or so ago about how Obama wants to see more whistle blowing done, just like he did when he came to office, but then shits all over those people, allowing God knows which security force to go hell for leather to have the people arrested and thrown into jail!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 4 Apr 2016 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      It will be kind of harder to sustain any criticism this time. First because the leak isn't about the Government itself and secondly because there isn't an Ed Snowden to focus on instead of the hard facts. That's the beauty of an anonymous source that even the journalists don't know and the fact that it is a coalition of news outfits and journalists: you can't focus on a person and conduct a smear campaign. There's nowhere to focus the attacks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 4 Apr 2016 @ 11:56am

    I'm willing to bet that while there will be surprises as the data is processed they won't be the norm. The money from Putin is hardly a surprise. You know, things everybody know but there isn't hard, visible evidence. Taking the FIFA scandal as an example, there was no surprise when they started arresting the Brazilians involved. Actually the surprise was the ones they didn't arrest as soon as it started.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sharatan, 4 Apr 2016 @ 12:07pm

    No wonder.

    ...dozens of media sites are involved, although curiously few from the US.

    They probably don't want to upset their bosses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    S. T. Stone (profile), 4 Apr 2016 @ 12:16pm

    The journalist groups and media companies in charge of handling the reporting on these leaks are all based in the US and UK, and they all have ties to some major corporations who would probably not want to see their names leaked in these reports.

    Is it any wonder that you're only hearing about people/organizations from other countries?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 12:18pm

    please dont tell me there was a 'backdoor' into wherever the info was held? but i keep hearing how there must be backdoors built into various devices etc so that law enforcement can get in to look at whatever they want but no one else must be allowed. and if someone else did manage to get in, they had to do the 'scout's honor' bit and promise not to tell anyone else!
    the trouble is that there are so many politicians who are in bed with so many law enforcement heads and so many company bosses that, although they want everyone to use all the new, the latest technology, they only want it used in the ways, the places and under the circumstances that they say! how fucking ridiculous is that?? then when shit hits fan and all us ordinary joes find out exactly what those rich and powerful bastards are up to, getting laws crafted that suits them and only them, they dont like it when the retaliation starts! well, that's what happens when you behave like you are the most entitled in the world and the ordinary folk are nothing but crap!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 6:02pm

      Re:

      The Government message could be one of two ways.

      Hey look we found a back door and recovered all this data for law enforcement.

      or

      Hey we found a back door and leaked all this data find them son of bitches who did this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Big Bad Bob, 4 Apr 2016 @ 10:33pm

      Response to: please dont tell me there was a 'backdoor' Apr 4th, 2016 @ 12:18pm

      I heard an interview that a Ugandan company evaded as much in taxes as the GDP of Uganda. Meanwhile people earn a dollar a day and are asked to bring their own medical supplies like gloves and gauze when they go to the hospital. I would love to see these assholes get what they deserve but they won't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FM Hilton, 4 Apr 2016 @ 12:21pm

    Who's to blame?

    The NSA will be very disappointed to know that Edward Snowden had nothing to do with this leak.

    Nor did Chelsea Manning. Guess there's still hope for investigative journalism yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 4 Apr 2016 @ 1:10pm

    But today you can buy a portable, pocket-sized USB hard disk drive with a capacity of several terabytes for tens of dollars, with prices continuing to fall -- thanks to Kryder's Law and other factors.

    The price per capacity rate continues to fall, but since capacity keeps increasing, the price for new drives never seems to fall below $60-80 or so. People often say that hard drives today cost just pennies a gigabyte, but if that's true, why can't I buy a new 500GB drive for $20?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 4 Apr 2016 @ 1:57pm

      Re:

      There is a minimum price for the hardware that makes up a drive. As soon as the (price-per-gig*num_gigs + profit) drops below the minimum, those drives are discountinued as they're no longer profitable to make. The remaining stock are sold, often at a discount, then they disappear altogether.

      Solid-state drives have a lower minimum price for the hardware, but the storage capacities lag over regular drives. But you will eventually get your $20 500G drive... as an SD card or USB stick.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 8:07pm

      Re:

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 1:40pm

    Next ban

    Next thing will be ban storage devices who surpass the TB line, or register them to our names, "cause only terrorist and whistleblowers would use such capacity to store shady information", the government will argue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2016 @ 4:26am

      Re: Next ban

      And if the terrorist needing that amount of storage doesn't work then try the pirates argument that only a pirate needs 1TB+ of storage to store and share all those Hollywood movies that were illegally acquired!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Agonistes (profile), 4 Apr 2016 @ 2:24pm

    This massive leak has unveiled undeniable evidence of the systematic, widespread use of sound and prudent financial planning and investment by moneyed interests worldwide. Probably within smoky rooms of dim lighting and ill repute. The blowback from the well-informed public will be swift,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 2:39pm

    The greatest thing in a long time!

    Everyone knows that there are a lot of dirty powerful bastards out there who misuse the system while telling the world that they worked hard for every cent.
    This is a major breakthrough in revealing such people, even though it is "just" info from one single company dealing in such things.
    Not only is it great to see their activities being dragged out into the bright light, but maybe just as much a cooperation between journalists across the world to sift through this information. The only leak seems to have come a few days before the reveal.
    Then there is of course the whistleblower, who defied some of the worlds most powerful and vengeful people. Doing something for the good of the public without ever being able to take credit because that would make him a target for possibly the rest of his life, equals Snowden's revelations.
    In this I don't find surprise at the corrupt politicians or the powerful people's illegal activities, but instead great joy that it is brought forward by such cooperation and dedication.

    In short: Very well done!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 4 Apr 2016 @ 2:59pm

    Unaoil?

    This leak is very convenient for some people: the Unaoil scandal has been pushed off the front page.

    Cui bono applied to this leak?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 5:03pm

    Hmm, they now care about privacy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Meh, 4 Apr 2016 @ 6:22pm

    Funny thing. Bernie actually fought against the free trade agreement with Panama citing this very reason 20 or so years ago. Very interesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Manok, 4 Apr 2016 @ 6:49pm

    I'm not into conspiracies, but with 2 massive leaks being revealed this week, I wonder... could this really be 'disgruntled' employees leaking, or is there 'some nation' which would have no problem hoovering up this information, then cause a shit storm mostly in other countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2016 @ 9:48pm

    i wonder why

    I wonder why the data wasn't protected using strong encryption and multi factor authentication.
    Looking at the list of (potential) clients, I assume that some of them would be very unpleased having thier involvement made public.
    Maybe we will see some tragic traffic accidents in the near future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    trollificus (profile), 5 Apr 2016 @ 2:09am

    Interesting. It's gotten to be a HUGE world economy out there. There's a LOT of money and it would appear that there's a fuckton of money in herding and hiding services with an emphasis on "No questions" expertise. And MF didn't exactly have a monopoly. No, when MF dropped the sanctioned companies' accounts (Often when, after years of loyal association and service, someone applied the aggressive hacker technique known as "a Google Search" on them, for like, totally no reason.) that money just went somewhere else. Tips, icebergs...

    Lot of info on that site, lotta malfeasance, but I found myself particularly unmoved by the plight of the ex-wives trying to get their "fair share" of some ill-gotten billions for no more puttin' out than any trailerpark babymomma. Somehow:

    "Offshore law firm jokes in emails as they help husband “protect” assets against “unpleasant” divorce."

    ...doesn't really generate much outrage with me. On the one side, funds gained or used in all kinds of vile ways, on the other, a mindless system that makes mind-boggling transfers of wealth sans wisdom or even sometimes, much regard for reality...not really a happy-making read, at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 5 Apr 2016 @ 6:37am

    Jeff Spicoli wants to know...

    Jeff Spicoli wants to know...
    Does weed taste better with Panama papers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stosh, 5 Apr 2016 @ 10:59am

    Wonder what odds Las Vegas has for the first US presidential contender to be implicated....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FM Hilton, 5 Apr 2016 @ 12:01pm

    The odds of what?

    "Wonder what odds Las Vegas has for the first US presidential contender to be implicated...."

    Zero to none.

    Because if anyone is that stupid, to go outside of the country to hide their money in a place that is well-known for being a tax-haven for super-rich elite (and some criminals)..they've got more problems than just being in the race.

    Because the IRS would like to talk to them...especially after the cooperation with the Swiss banks that did a good number on them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 5 Apr 2016 @ 2:05pm

    Ours Truly

    New superhero!

    Truthman. A Man who told the Truth, on the planet of Lies.

    ...truly sad.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2016 @ 8:34pm

    Aussie PM proud of offshore accounts in tax haven

    When the opposition claimed in parliament that the current freshly minted PM Malcolm Turnbull, formally the Minister for Goldmann Sachs was using offshore tax havens to park his hundreds of millions of dollars he went on the attack calling it "the politics of envy".

    As Rupert Murdoch controls a large share of the MSM, the far right wing lobby group the "IPA" & the current right wing government, all is well for our offshore banking tax avoiding leader who advocates the poor old workers at the bottom to pay more tax & enjoy less government services whilst loudly proclaiming that tax cuts for the rich & companies that the rich own will make everyone richer.

    So much for the Commonwealth of Australia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      GEMont (profile), 7 Apr 2016 @ 4:33pm

      Re: Aussie PM proud of offshore accounts in tax haven

      At least you'll have some interesting company.

      Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, should follow along right into the hole Australia is digging.

      Now where have se seen those name, all together, before.

      ===

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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