from the another-voice-joins-the-conversation dept
We've just written about a call from the Greens in the European Parliament for new laws to protect whistleblowers. Given that people who leak confidential information currently enjoy very little protection, it's remarkable that we have any whistleblowers at all. One of the biggest recent leaks came in the form of the Panama Papers. Although we still don't know who the whistleblower might be, he or she has just released a very interesting statement entitled "The Revolution Will Be Digitized", which contains important new information. For example, we learn a little about who the whistleblower is -- or isn't:
For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have.
We also learn that the leaked documents were offered to many media organizations -- and to Wikileaks -- most of whom turned them down:
in addition to Süddeutsche Zeitung and ICIJ, and despite explicit claims to the contrary, several major media outlets did have editors review documents from the Panama Papers. They chose not to cover them. The sad truth is that among the most prominent and capable media organizations in the world there was not a single one interested in reporting on the story. Even Wikileaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly.
Most of the document is a denunciation of a failure by governments, the media and the legal profession to tackle what the author calls "one of the defining issues of our time" -- income inequality. Frustrated by the lack of action by all those groups, he or she makes an interesting offer:
In the end, thousands of prosecutions could stem from the Panama Papers, if only law enforcement could access and evaluate the actual documents. ICIJ and its partner publications have rightly stated that they will not provide them to law enforcement agencies. I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement to the extent that I am able.
The Panama Papers whistleblower is well aware of the fate of his or her predecessors, particularly in the financial sector. Like Snowden, he or she seems to have studied and learnt from their experiences:
I have watched as one after another, whistleblowers and activists in the United States and Europe have had their lives destroyed by the circumstances they find themselves in after shining a light on obvious wrongdoing. Edward Snowden is stranded in Moscow, exiled due to the Obama administration’s decision to prosecute him under the Espionage Act. For his revelations about the NSA, he deserves a hero's welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment. Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded millions for his information concerning Swiss bank UBS -- and was still given a prison sentence by the Justice Department. Antoine Deltour is presently on trial for providing journalists with information about how Luxembourg granted secret "sweetheart" tax deals to multi-national corporations, effectively stealing billions in tax revenues from its neighbour countries. And there are plenty more examples.
No surprise, then, that the Panama Papers whistleblower would really like more legal protection for those who leak information in the public interest. What is more surprising is the anger that permeates this statement, and how well it is articulated. A striking recent development in the world of whistleblowing is the way in which Edward Snowden has become one of the most acute commentators on the digital sphere, as his extended essay "Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking -- It's an Act of Political Resistance" underlines. What's most remarkable -- and encouraging -- about the Panama Papers whistleblower's essay is that it indicates we may be about to gain another valuable voice in the same way. The conclusion of the statement gives a hint of the kind of impassioned writing we could enjoy in the future:
The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system -- our system -- the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake. But when it takes a whistleblower to sound the alarm, it is cause for even greater concern. It signals that democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner. So now is the time for real action, and that starts with asking questions.
Perhaps it has: the Panama Papers site has just launched a public search engine for its database of documents. Start connecting those dots...
Historians can easily recount how issues involving taxation and imbalances of power have led to revolutions in ages past. Then, military might was necessary to subjugate peoples, whereas now, curtailing information access is just as effective or more so, since the act is often invisible. Yet we live in a time of inexpensive, limitless digital storage and fast internet connections that transcend national boundaries. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots: from start to finish, inception to global media distribution, the next revolution will be digitized.
Or perhaps it has already begun.