Data leak scandals: a romantic digitised revolution


arton32566It’s a story of ‘Fall of Man’ and the prevailing of romanticism.

When English poet John Milton wrote his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ in the 17th-century, he had never imagined how his thought of ‘justifying the ways of God to men’ would be degrading down from generation to generation in such a sad way.

But, it really did, indeed. The recent leak of ‘Paradise Papers’ actually gives enough strength and succour to his favourite idea of ‘fall of man’; and the ‘ways of God’ has been rebutted when journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed recently in a car bomb near her home in Malta. This courageous lady was described as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ by the Politico website. She led the ‘Panama Papers’ investigation into corruption in Malta and she had to be stopped; because her writings had been exposing the vicious nexus between politics and the underworld in Europe’s smallest member state.

From ‘Panama Papers’ to ‘Paradise Papers’, a cycle is now complete. But, it’s just the beginning of a new era of journalism — data journalism, where ethical hackers play significant roles to expose hidden lies; hidden files!

You know about Panama Papers and you’ve probably heard enough about Paradise Papers already. There has been a common link
between these two colossal leaks. In Panama Papers, we’ve seen files that expose the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials. They were key figures from around the world that included powerful men like the prime ministers of Pakistan, Iceland, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has by now been indicted and according to the latest news, Sharif and his family members may face travel bans.

There were Indian names too and the Indian government constituted a high profile team to investigate this gigantic tax-evasion; but, don’t expect any action or removal soon. Why? Because India doesn’t have a system like Pakistan where you first remove and then have
a trial; this is the official statement issued by Foreign Minister Arun Jaitley.

Paradise Papers leak is more recent. It not only reveals offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, it also exposes the tax-engineering of more than a hundred multinational corporations.

The names of politicians and world leaders include Queen Elizabeth II, and 13 advisers, major donors and members of U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s administration. The manifold names of multinational corporations include Apple, Nike and Botox-maker Allergan. According to the Paradise Papers, there were secretive deals connected to ‘Glencore’, the world’s largest commodity trader. It showed that the company had negotiated with the Democratic Republic of the Congo for valuable mineral resources. Further, it also showed how shell companies in Mauritius and Singapore had been used to reduce taxes. The Paradise Papers have enough documents to give a clear picture of how powerful and rich people own jets and yachts sans tax; and they do it using Isle of Man tax-avoidance structures.

This mysterious and humongous tax-escapade has been associated with a tiny country — Isle of Man. How ironical!

The Isle of Man is a fascinating country. It’s a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It’s surrounded by a rugged coastline, medieval castles and it also has a rural landscape. The name of the capital is Douglas and it has the Manx Museum that traces the island’s Celtic and Viking heritage. It has a population of around only 83,737 (provided by World Bank
in 2016).

It’s a nice peaceful country exemplified by a history of over 1,000 years of continuous parliamentary government. It’s the longest unbroken period of government in the world. But, wait, as an ‘offshore money centre’ this country is simply unrivalled. Offshore investments in the Isle of Man lay yourself open to no liability to taxes on investment income or capital gains. This tiny Isle of Man is indeed a tax efficient money centre.

I hope, so far, we’ve gathered enough logic to establish our first point. Whether it’s Panama Papers leak or Paradise Papers leak, the documents actually carry the history of illegal transactions. An entity — be it an individual or a corporation — the primary concern is: it somehow tries to avoid tax. Had they paid that tax, they would have indirectly benefited billions of poor people. The sad part is: there are lots of political people and ministers, emerging through the document, who are voted to power by the people — not to empower them but to steal their money and siphon them to the offshore accounts.

The history of journalism is abuzz with lots of cases where traditionally journalists investigate and look for hidden lies. And in many cases they were successful.

It still happens; but, technology has made it more extensive and the impact is tremendous. Now this exploration of the network of corruption is sans-frontier. That’s why, from ‘Panama Papers’ to ‘Paradise Papers’, what we’ve seen is astounding and mind-blowing. The network of corruption and illegal transaction of money are now interconnected through technology. Without a romantic technologist it’s impossible to explore those vices that spread through cables or invisible waves.

After the Panama Papers leak the anonymous whistleblower wanted to assist governments conditionally. It’s still unknown whether a group is behind the hack or a single entity did that magic. The whistleblower-hacker took the name of ‘John Doe’ and wanted more whistleblower-protection saying government should do more to address it.

Not all governments are doing it at present. Had they done so, journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia wouldn’t have been killed in a car bomb.

John Doe published a near two thousand-word statement, giving justification for the leak and said, ‘income inequality is one of the
defining issues of our time’. The statement was titled: ‘The Revolution Will Be Digitized’. It’s available online; you can read it. Panama
Papers whistleblower John Doe is a romantic technologist who dreams about an equal world and wrote such lines in the statement: “I decided to expose Mossack Fonseca because I thought its founders, employees and clients should have to answer for their roles in these crimes, only some of which have come to light thus far. It will take years, possibly decades, for the full extent of the firm’s sordid acts to
become known.”

The same or nearly same things happened in the cases of Paradise Papers leak. Much before it surfaced the offshore legal firm Apple by
admitted that they were hacked and the financial details of some of the world’s richest people were set to be published. Exactly that happened.

What John Milton perceived in his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ — the ‘Fall of Man’, is now quite evident; but, don’t forget there still is hope, because ‘romanticism’ still prevails in this ‘indifferent digital age’.

Romantic technologist ‘John Doe’ and the likes will always be there to keep us sane.