When protecting the guilty might be the best option
Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-01-17
Another handover of evidence to Wikileaks about misbehaviour in the banking system, another set of questions arising about the desirability of redaction before publication, another chance to see if Wikileaks is playing for short-term fame, or long-term reform.
The release of the evidence of gross tax evasion should be geared to forcing governments to tax action to close the holes, not make headlines dissimilar from celebrity gossip columns.
How might good long-term results for the public be best achieved?
Legal actions by private individuals, objecting to publication of privacy-related information would be a costly distraction. Those individuals should have their names removed before publication.
It’s not so clear-cut with corporations, however much corporations claim the privileges of real persons these days.
It’s not so clear-cut with politicians, where there is a good chance the funds involved have been siphoned from the public purse.
Even with private individuals, there may be cause to release names, if the funds are patently the proceeds of crimes: those of drug barons for example.
The main game should be to demonstrate the scale of the systemic problems and force reform – both in this new instance of Swiss bank dodginess that prevents states getting their dues, and in the information soon to be released (probably from Bank of America) about gross fraud by executives and boards.
With supression of names of individuals, the news is about the sums of money involved and the methods used. If those funds are huge, bigger than nation states expect, politicians might see an opportunity to go after such monies, spend them on their citizens, improve their chances for re-election.
The funds detailed in the leaked documents are probably not enough to make a difference to the politicians – but the examples, pointing to the likelyhood of massive sums, hidden now and in the future if loopholes aren’t closed, might galvanize changes to laws and enforcement approaches.
There is probably some good to be gained by forcing banks to release information on accounts and transactions every year – even if those accounts are anonymized. But where would the financial institutions send such data?
To my mind, there is a need for an intergovernmental body, a clearinghouse for this type of information, the data might be anonymized, might be prevented as evidence in a prosecution, but can certainly provide a hint that something is wrong, and worth pursuing.
Let’s hope the Wikileaks staff are going for change not celebrity.