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.