By William Tucker
Recently, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published the Pandora Papers, involving over 11 million leaked documents that detail the offshore holdings of 35 world leaders, over 100 billionaires, public officials and celebrities. The Pandora Papers allegedly show that these individuals used offshore holdings to hide their wealth and avoid taxes.
So far, ICIJ has not disclosed the source of this information. The companies that allegedly leaked the documents have not – and likely will not – verify the legitimacy of the information in the Pandora Papers.
The Effects of the Pandora Papers for Politicians
Though the accusations of wealth hiding and tax evasion are inflammatory, the Pandora Papers have already fallen from leading news sources a mere two weeks after their release. Leaks such as the Pandora Papers – or their predecessor, the Panama Papers – do have an impact on our society, albeit a limited one.
Some politicians may resign or lose their jobs as a result of the leaks. Similarly, celebrities may suffer some embarrassment, and billionaires will continue to be billionaires.
That begs the question: What was the point of these leaks? After all, governments prosecute individuals for sharing illicit information, and companies may pursue information leakers in civil cases if they were trusted employees. Also, hackers who leak critical information may often become the target of law enforcement, as some members of Anonymous and Lulzsec discovered.
In a democracy, leaks such as the Pandora Papers can certainly have an impact. However, the nature of the leaks may prevent some of the information from use in a court of law.
Furthermore, a politician may lose his or her job, but that doesn’t always guarantee that a noble or capable replacement will take the helm. In some instances, a disgraced politician’s supporters will not be swayed by such information leaks, and those leaks will be viewed as just another clump of mud in an ever-familiar mudslinging contest.
Accusations based upon leaked information must not only speak to the detractors but must also turn the supporters of a politician. Without that change, the leaks are an exercise in futility, no matter how noble the leaker’s intention may be.
The Effects of the Pandora Papers on the Wealthy
When it comes to wealthy individuals, they may face some scrutiny, but unless their actions are profoundly criminal, leaks such as the Pandora Papers are unlikely to have much impact. In most cases, any measure that targets someone’s wealth and tax evasion will have to be legislative, so responding to the Pandora Papers will not be accomplished quickly.
Skepticism among the public regarding the wealthy is ever-present, so support for measures to rein in financial behavior do not always require embarrassing leaks as motivation. The individuals who leaked this information put their careers or freedom on the line for something with minimal or nonexistent impact, regardless of their moral intentions.
The Pandora Papers Also Have No Effect on an Authoritarian Regime
If sparking change in a democracy by leaking information is difficult at best, then it is nearly impossible in an authoritarian regime. The constant flow of information regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wealth has not resulted in any meaningful political shift after the release of the Pandora Papers.
On the one hand, these regimes have a better grip on public information, so much of the population will not see the disclosures. On the other hand, citizens may fear for their well-being if they speak out against their government and its excesses.
Information leaks can have some impact on an authoritarian regime if there are other factors, such as conflict or famine, that remove citizen apathy. For the most part, generating change in the political landscape of a repressive regime is unlikely to occur by leaking this type of information. There needs to be supporting factors to motivate people to disregard their safety.
It is highly unlikely that leaks of sensitive information like the Pandora Papers will cease, despite the woefully inadequate return on investment. Moral initiatives are not typically swayed by a lack of results; rather, the opposite typically occurs. In other words, leaks such as the Pandora Papers will continue.