This article originally appeared on VICE US
Last month, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists unveiled the biggest data leak in history. The so-called Panama Papers revealed the clients of a shady Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca that set up offshore bank accounts and shell companies for the rich, worldwide. The leak was troubling because such fancy arrangements can sometimes cross over from legit tax planning to criminal tax evasion. From a moral perspective, the leak showed that the people with the most money to contribute to the well-being of society instead sometimes choose to secretly hoard their wealth.
Put even more simply, the Panama Papers laid bare the sad fact that there's very different rules out there for rich people and poor people.
But until now, we haven't heard a peep from the person(s) who leaked the 11.5 million documents implicating politicians and world leaders in fraud and hypocrisy. That changed on Friday, when an 1,800-word manifesto appeared on the ICIJ website, attributed only to a John Doe. "The Revolution Will Be Digitized" lays out a moral argument for whistleblowing and asks governments to provide absolute protections for people like Doe or Edward Snowden, who is currently stuck in Russia because he's afraid to step foot in the United States or anywhere else that his home country has extradition powers. (Interestingly, the Panama Papers leaker reveals that, unlike Snowden, he has never worked for any government or intelligence agency.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Doe uses the manifesto to justify his action, calling income inequality "one of the most defining issues of our time." For that, he blames shady bureaucrats, lawyers, and politicians. More specifically, he points to the revolving door between government and big banks, the corruption of the legal profession, and the relentless fundraising that's required of US politicians.
"Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population," Doe writes. "These unsavory political practices have come full circle, and they are irreconcilable. Reform of America's broken campaign finance system cannot wait."
Finally, Doe blames the media, claiming that several prominent news outlets chose not to publish his leak––despite their claims to the contrary. It's unclear which institutions he's calling out, but there were some glaring omissions on the day the news dropped. For instance, the New York Times, perhaps the most revered newspaper on the planet, did not have a story prepared when the Panama Papers dropped, inspiring enough incredulous feedback that the paper's public editor was forced to respond. Margaret Sullivan reported the paper of record's editors had been unaware of the massive story, despite the fact that much less prominent outlets apparently had the documents far enough in advance that they were able to prepare spiffy features about Mossack Fonseca.
"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," Doe writes. "Even Wikileaks didn't answer its tip line repeatedly."
Finally, although the ICIJ has said it won't cooperate with law enforcement, Doe seems to be trying to open up the lines of communication. If the feds do go after Mossack Fonseca (which has denied wrongdoing), it could shut down, or at least seriously derail, the banking system in Panama. Doe uses his manifesto to remind people that at least some crimes were committed––not just moral outrages––and seems to want the people behind the firm prosecuted.
While all that gets sorted out, the leaker asks us to not forget what happened a month ago, and to keep a leery eye trained toward the global behemoth that is modern capitalism.
"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," Doe writes. "The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake."
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