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The secrecy uprising

Written By: - Date published: 2:59 pm, April 15th, 2016 - 29 comments
Categories: Europe, International, tax - Tags: ,

In 1989, David Brin wrote a near-future look (2038) at the world. It was entitled ‘Earth’.  I was just rereading in Northern Italy between the long days of work fulfilling a contract. It is a book that is well-known for its prophetic musing on future trends.

One low likelihood element of the book was the Helvitican War, or the secrecy uprising. In the book, this probably happened somewhere in after 2020 with the increasing radicalization and opposition against all forms of financial secrecy or secrecy in general happening in the 2010s and 2020s,

In my view, the Panama papers are just part of the continuing trend towards that prophecy, with the world population’s increasing irritation with the corrupt,  the wealthy, and the unproductive parasites of a productive world. As one analysis of it said of the precepts of the Helvitican War..

Since writing ‘Earth’, Brin has expanded on this theme and the social issues involved in The Transparent Society. The general thesis is that technology is rapidly expanding human vision, filling the world with databases and cameras.  This threatens to make privacy a thing of the past.  it can also enhance the powers of the mighty (elites of government or money or criminality) to spy on common folk.  Instead of hiding from this trend, the best way for us to deal with it may be to embrace it, by aggressively opening the information flows.  By insisting on watching the watchmen.

This was portrayed in Earth by assuming the world’s citizens became somewhat radicalized in the 2010s and 2020s… NOT toward old-fashioned socialism, but toward insisting that all the secret backroom deals end. Radical transparency is exaggerated in Earth through the metaphor of the “Helvetian War.”  A struggle by the world’s poor nations and middle class taxpayers against the secret banking havens like Switzerland, ending (after much violence) in victory with release of all the financial records.

After watching the way that taxpayers were screwed by the bailouts of the financial and banking system in the global financial crisis in 2007-2008 and the great recession resulting from it have been reacting with increasing irritation and anger towards the secrecy of elites, I’m starting to believe that this vision is more prophetic than unlikely. Just look at the startled and angry reactions that forced this action reported today..

Europe’s biggest nations launched a joint scheme on Thursday to clamp down on tax evasion and corruption, responding to revelations of the rich and powerful stashing money in far-away tax havens in the so-called Panama Papers.

“In the future, nobody should be able to hide behind complex legal structures,” German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said as he unveiled the initiative. “Fighting tax evasion requires a global response.”

The leak of thousands of confidential documents from a Panamanian law firm earlier this month has had political repercussions in many countries, forcing Iceland’s prime minister to quit and putting British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure over his family’s financial affairs.

Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain agreed to share detailed data on the ownership of companies, trusts and foundations, making it more difficult for actual owners to hide their wealth and income from tax authorities.


Unveiling their proposals alongside IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and OECD chief José Ángel Gurría, the five nations committed to establishing a register to detail the beneficial owners of companies, trusts, foundations, and shell companies, making it available for tax administration and law enforcement authorities.

French finance minister Michel Sapin said the joint effort should be followed by even tougher measures against countries that will not comply.

“We have to speed up and we have to implement and we have to have the proper sanctions against those countries that would not join the international consensus,” he said.

This looks to me like the steady movement towards the type of hard line driven by taxpayers to force the secretive corrupt and parasites to cough up. David Brin had the fictional Brazzaville Conference that  was the starting point of the devastating Helvitican War with its unleashing of atomic and biological war in central Europe to prise open the Swiss banking system.

These days the Swiss seem like a less likely target than somewhere with lax banking systems and lenient trust and company structures. We are much more likely. It is clear from John Key’s lackluster and irresponsible  reaction to accusations of our country being just such a loosely controlled tax haven, that we are becoming an target – see Simon’s “Whitewash a certainty in tax haven review“.

Personally, I don’t want our country to be one of the vilified and possibly bombed out nations because frigging John Key likes being “relaxed” about our tax haven pariah status. Let’s make sure that we tax the parasite bastards hard.




I leave you with a reading from David Brin from Earth.

29 comments on “The secrecy uprising ”

  1. Lucy 1

    The problem is that the proposals are just show trials enough to keep the plebs at bay. the wealthy have no intention of paying their share or even a share. A few will be thrown to the wolves – the interesting one is the Iceland Prime Minister – the man from the only country that imprisoned bankers – what message was that sending? Politicians from countries that bailed out the banks are likely not to be there.
    There appears to be not much comment about who benefits from the leaks. There has been a pronounced anti Chinese/Indian elite vibe to this which works to the specific xenophobia that NZ, Australia, UK and US populations will feed off. Then there is the African/Slavic political corruption that feeds the EU and UK narrative.
    As this is only the fifth largest firm then maybe the wealthy Americans and English use other firms. But apart from the dead father of the English PM the people I would have expected to be exposed like pop stars, actors, politicians, the Forbes 500, wealthy families are conspicuous by their absence.

    • This is why it’s going to be a matter of how much political outrage and capital there is in this issue. If the public don’t settle for show trials and shut-them-up reviews and investigations, then there’s a chance. Witness how John Key conceded his shut-them-up review after he realised this is an issue that can take down Prime Ministers. (I imagine he’s checked that his finances are secure from this particular leak and that’s why he stopped at promising a review, if he were actually expecting to be vulnerable personally on this issue I would be expecting a much less managed and far more panicked response. That’s not of course to say there aren’t “unknown unknowns” to the PM’s view of his political exposure on this issue- he might have a family member, donor, or minister who is exposed somewhere in the Panama Papers that he doesn’t know about)

  2. adam 2

    Could not agree more.

    The bubble which the national party have immersed themselves, is ignorant of the rest of the world, and how people across the globe are finding this type of greed repugnant.

    They seem to think that people here don’t find it repugnant as well, and then launch at anyone who questions that meme they have spun around themselves.

    People said Helen Clark was arrogant, and I think she was a bit – but all of her arrogance is but a thimbleful, compared to this current cabinet. I can’t think of week that goes by when someone from the cabinet is not praising greed, or banging on how good it is to filthy rich. Or trying to use the media to hate on poor people, whilst at the same time, snuggle up to the parasites.

    It’s beyond left and right folks. It’s back to are we on the right side of history, or are we on the wrong side.

  3. Bill 3

    Hmm. Off to find that clip from the Prime Minister of New Zealand that appeared (to me) to betray a massive disconnect in his world view.


    See. They’re legal and that’s all there is to it. No moral dimension involved at all. And so he reckons it’s a cast iron parry to simply point out that journalists would ‘have their arses sued’ if they suggested otherwise.

  4. RedLogix 4

    Some years back in a staff meeting our manager asked “Hands up if you would be happy if everyone knew your salary?” He was expecting to make a point about how privacy mattered; what he didn’t expect was about 15% of the room (including me) putting their hand up.

    The other example that gets mentioned from time to time here is how Norway already puts everyone’s tax records online for anyone to see.

    Here is a question that puts it into sharp clarity. Given that we are probably less than a decade or two away from being able to record every moment of every person’s life … in a massive database … how do you think this would change us?

    Imagine if the database was 100% open and reviewable by everyone. No more sex crimes for a start. No more crime at all.

    I grant you it sounds outlandish, but where we are now is even more extreme when I was born.

    • Incognito 4.1

      Imagine if the database was 100% open and reviewable by everyone. No more sex crimes for a start. No more crime at all.

      I am not convinced. In the past God used to be able to watch everything and even know your most inner thoughts, a bit like Minority Report on steroids. It did not prevent those things you mentioned. In tight communities with a high level of social control, in which there arguably is/was a high level of transparency, we also didn’t see Paradise-reborn.

      If the (presumed) answer is to embrace the technology-driven death of privacy then we’d better re-think the question.

  5. Gabby 5

    Still can’t figure out why the Guardian would actually say that many names would never be released. Whom were they reassuring?

  6. Jenny 6

    There is no such thing as secrecy anymore.

    And just as you suggest Lynne, I think that we should embrace it.

    Not that I endorse John Key’s sinister, “If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide.” proclamation, related to metadata collection by government spy agencies. Which by his subsequent actions, show that he meant this sort of intrusion to be only one way.

    (The irony for the man who said that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, John Key is extraordinarily resistant to release his tax data to the public.)

    But it doesn’t work that way.

    While we, the general population are supposed to accept the reality that everything we do these days on line and even off line can be monitored. What John Key and his ilk seem to overlook is that this lack of secrecy is more and more becoming two way.

    More than any other threat to the routine secrecy practiced by the world’s elite, financial institutions and government spy agencies, is the threat from within.

    As the Mossack Fonseca and Unaoil leaks show, more and more information of the secretive activities of the global illite are being dropped into the public sphere by anonymous insiders of conscience. Forget hackers, it is only a matter of time before New Zealand has its own Edward Snowden. And all the skeletons will tumble out of the closet for all to see.

    I imagine that the very real possibility that all their illegal activities will be released to the world by one of their own, sends ice cold shivers up the spines of the GCSB the SIS and all the other secretive agencies that spy on New Zealanders.

    Nothing to fear nothing to hide?

    Who for instance are the 88 New Zealand citizens who were being illegally spied on? Revealed in the revelations relating to the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom.

    Can they all be terrorists?

    If so, how come, none of them have ever been arrested, or even brought in for questioning?

    My guess is that we will be surprised by who exactly is on this list.

    I suspect that many will be respected citizens of courage and conviction, who have had the wit to question the status quo.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were one of them Lynne.

  7. Jenny 7

    XKeyscore or XKEYSCORE (abbreviated as XKS) is a formerly* secret computer system…..


    *My emphasis, J.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    I expect Key’s resistance to such measures is more personal – if he does not possess a trust that the public would not consider clean, the net increase in his personal fortune since becoming PM would probably seem anomalous to those lucky to see a 1% pay increase from one year to the next. An enthusiastic currency trader controlling a nation’s fortunes can stack a lot of zeroes.

  9. Incognito 9

    I know this is not what this post really is about but I’m quite fond of my privacy, not because I’ve got something to hide (no more or less than others, I assume), but because I need my own little space in this World of which I can at least occasionally pretend it is mine and nobody else’s. If this were taken away from me I’d go ‘insane’.

    I suspect that if we demand more transparency from politicians, companies, the ‘wealthy’, etc., this will inevitably lead to further erosion of our personal privacy & space, e.g. increased powers by IRD, GCSB, banks, insurance companies, immigration, potential employers, etc. It is a double-edged sword.

    • Jenny 9.1

      “I suspect that if we demand more transparency from politicians, companies, the ‘wealthy’, etc., this will inevitably lead to further erosion of our personal privacy & space, e.g. increased powers by IRD, GCSB, banks, insurance companies, immigration, potential employers, etc. It is a double-edged sword.” Incognito

      Precisely. “A double edged sword always cuts two ways”.

      Had enough of cliche’ yet?

      How about this one, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword”.

      We weren’t the ones who picked up this sword, and for the vast majority of the data sifted and spied on, we aren’t the ones who wield it.

      I find your argument unconvincing, especially the implied threat contained, that if we demand the same transparency of them that the powerful have into our lives, the powerful people you mention will double down on their spying on us.

      Your purchasing habits, your online browsing, your google maps location through your cell phone. Your phone calls. All your metadata. Your privacy has already been breached.

      I got further news for you, Incognito you have got no privacy already. None! So it would be hard to double down on it.

    • lprent 9.2

      I find that I have a pretty strong distinction between secrecy and privacy. The two are not synonymous.

      For instance, there are a lot of things that are well known (ie not a secret) about this site which are private. Many of them covered in the privacy policies for the site – like the IPs and ’emails’ of commenters. The detail is very private and closely held. How we treat the handling of such details is not.

      Throughout the about, there are statements about privacy and secrecy and what we will or will not do. For instance the following means that we tolerate individual opinions by authors (and commenters for that matter), but are very intolerant of individual authors (or commenters) trying to push secret message lines for political parties or organisations.

      We write here in our personal capacities and the opinions that are expressed on the blog are individual unless expressly stated otherwise (see the policy). We do not write on behalf of any organization.

      But the lines that are drawn are both explicit and explain the exact reasoning

      Some of the authors here use their real names, but others choose to blog under a pseudonym for a variety of reasons. Some of us have professional reasons for doing so, others of us are reluctant to expose ourselves to the kind of personal threats sometimes made online. Those of us using pseudonyms discussed this issue long and hard before we began and came down on the side of anonymity. We hope you can see why. You might also want to contemplate the implications of this link.

      Of course, the link was to Cameron Slater’s site and his personal level of hypocrisy. There are many like him who don’t run clear rules and who are have such a lost moral and ethical compass that they consider that they should be able to do anything they want with regards to the privacy of others, while condemning any anything that might strip themselves of privacy. In Cameron’s case the instances of that kind of hypocrisy are way too many to be bothered listing.

      Or people like John Key. Happy to strip privacy of people on benefits just in case that a few have secret financial matters that they haven’t declared, but totally unwilling to open up to queries in exactly the same manner about his own possible financial secrets when questioned – claiming the right of privacy.

      On the other hand, secrecy only works if there is something to conceal. An insistence on privacy when challenged about good reasons to challenge secrecy is rather suspicious. While we don’t have anything here to conceal (as r0b and Danyl of the Dimpost pointed out here), it is pretty clear the John Key does when it comes to his financial advisors.

      Earth was pretty interesting in that distinction between secrecy and privacy. An early theme in the book was looking at where that distinction was being blurred with respect to adolescents. The rather clever way the Brin highlighted it was to postulate that recording technology had become personal, portable, ubiquitous, highly connected to the net and very very cheap (rather like the functional use of cellphones in fact).

      Instead of adolescents and their older counterparts being obsessed by the crowing rights of twitter, facebook and their selfies of where they are and where they are doing – like this for instance *evil grin*

      In the book, the elderly were infected by both the trauma of the Helvitica War and the obsessions of young hoonish crime needing to be constrained by ever closer surveillance. In fact obsessional levels of surveillance. When groups of young men came hear, the elderly would adjust their TruVus eye cameras, make sure their connection to the net was secure and fast, and proceed to watch every move of the young dickheads hoping that they would do an anti social act like spitting or not putting garbage away just so that they could report the infraction.

      That wasn’t trying to defeat the kind of secrecy that facilitated the widespread tax avoidance and evasion of the parasitic elites of society, it was a simple-minded invasion of privacy by a technically enhanced Mrs Grundy.

      • Skinny 9.2.1

        Very interesting read for me this morning. and gives plenty of food for thought. When I woke up a couple of hours ago, started thinking about my sister who I visited and stayed a night with in Auckland earlier this week.

        There is now only just the two of us left in our family, while we have always been close our relationship over time has become odd, quite superficial. Unspoken rules have come into play. Money, Tax and Trusts, Property are all subjects to be avoided. Anyway the TV News came on and the Panama papers was featuring, including tax haven, dodging tax through trusts. I looked at her and asked did you actually pay any tax these days or is that all taken care of? She just ignored my question and started talking about a mutual friend. So I asked how many millions do you have 20, have you reached 20 yet, probably more than that. She answered something like that. So then I asked again do you pay any tax? She wouldn’t answer then replied “we don’t talk about money you know the rules it is rude”. I persisted rude or shameful? Then it came out, “you have been causing me embarrassment with the trouble your creating, protests anti government stunts. Some of my friends know your my brother, people talk”. Fuck your Tory friends and it is for your sake not mine that we stay in contact because mum made me promise. I despise what you have become as you do I.
        So she has a name, Mrs Grundy. Nice!

      • RedLogix 9.2.2

        Which is well and good Lynn, but still dodges the fact that what is private and what is secret have a very large overlap.

        Anything you want to keep private is by definition a form of secret. Yet many secrets should never be private. Let’s for the sake of clarity assume that all private matters are a subset of all secret ones.

        But where is the boundary? The only way to make the distinction is to dismantle the secrecy and take a look. But in doing so we also destroy privacy.

        Nor can we safely depend on each person to define what is private for them. After all most crimes are secrets the perpetrator wants very much to keep private.

        The invention of rooms effectively created spaces where people could routinely talk and act away from public scrutiny. Prior to this most of human social life was conducted out in the open, with a high degree of collective observation. Those who visit the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies left, are struck at how very little privacy they have. It’s almost always the first thing that hits them.

        Above I made the awkward example about the possibility of recording 100% of our lives; including our sex lives. Of course this seems repugnant to us, but would not seem so weird to a person living in a tribal long house where the whole village slept under one roof. Sure they’re modest about it, but everyone knows. And such societies are also noted for their almost non-existent rates of sex crimes.

        With technology now effectively giving us the tools to virtually dismantle all the walls on all the rooms, where will this take us? Why do we value privacy so much? What benefits does it bring us, even at the cost of the secrecy inseparably entangled with it?

        • lprent

          I agree with all of that, but I suspect that much of the solution will lie between what us secret and what is private.

          For instance, I take absolutely no measures against the security forces on this site doing man in the middle collection. For them to use their invasion of the privacy of the communications to this site in any public or even private form for no clear good purpose would eventually result in their defenestration.

          And I would assist. I don’t have to rely on the good new of their hearts. I just have to rely on their own intelligent self interest of wanting to fulfill their role without distractions.

          The political establishment is more of a issue. We do elect a number if fundamentally stupid people. Some of them are probably stupid enough to corruptly misuse the tools of state – think Judith Collins for instance. Or John Key, the NZDF general staff and the idiots in the crown prosecution who used millions of taxpayer funds against Jon Stevenson.

          But such uses are so clearly beyond purpose, like the raid on Nicky Hagers house, that they get pruned by the other parts of the state. And if that fails, well then it is to to reform the state the hard way.

          Hopefully the latter never happens. That is why I am involved in politics.

          • Draco T Bastard

            We do elect a number if fundamentally stupid people. Some of them are probably stupid enough to corruptly misuse the tools of state – think Judith Collins for instance.

            And some of them are outright psychopaths and are intelligent enough to hide it which means that they also have the intelligence to not get caught corruptly using state power. This was my first thought when I heard that FJK had deleted his texts from his phone.

        • Draco T Bastard

          But where is the boundary? The only way to make the distinction is to dismantle the secrecy and take a look. But in doing so we also destroy privacy.

          IMO, the economy is not personal – it belongs to all of us. As such we not only have the right to know what money you have, what taxes you paid and how you spent it as well because we need to associate the use of our scarce resources that are the fundamental basis of the economy.

          Most of the time that data would be agglomerated into information that we could use. Personal details would be kept out of it.

          In the case of a crime then the personal details would also be looked at and the crime traced so that all who participated in it could be caught.

          Privacy kept, secrets abolished.

          Sure they’re modest about it, but everyone knows. And such societies are also noted for their almost non-existent rates of sex crimes.

          That makes sense. If children grow up seeing normal human sexual relations then they’re going to grow up understanding them including the right and wrong. Our society is the exact opposite. We hide those normal human relations and we end up with high rates of sex crime.

          • RedLogix


            Thanks … I can always rely on you for a thoughtful answer. My question above was not in the least rhetorical; I’m genuinely intrigued at this distinction between private and secret. The former we have universally come to regard as a good thing, the latter always a potentially bad thing.

            I completely agree with you about secrecy in the economic sphere, yet even that is troublesome. Exactly what should be in or out? Should for instance price information from rival bidder’s be public domain? In a competitive environment the price card is still the Joker you play close to your chest. That would be a very tough pattern to challenge.

            And how to separate out what is ‘private’ information from what is ‘public’? That too seems like a challenge. And technology changes not only the reach of our surveillance, it never forgets …. extending it’s impact without limit. Should for example everyone’s browser history be public domain and searchable?

            Yet at some level we still value privacy. In many ways it’s a peculiarly modern invention, but one we have become very attached to. Yet rarely do we see a deeper analysis of why. What advantages does it really bring to our lives that make it so important to us?

            As an aside I’m struck by the way the confines of a crowded tramping hut, break down our usual privacy conventions. A small roomful of strangers functions perfectly well with almost no personal privacy; and I’ve never found it confronting. Indeed I rather enjoy it.

            But coming at this argument from the other end; whatever it is we do value about privacy, there have been plenty of illicit interests willing to exploit that into persuading us to believe their dark secrets are also private. And they’ve used that argument to dissuade us from looking. The Panama Papers now rudely informing us that we were conned.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Exactly what should be in or out?

              We’re interested in the price paid for the final product and the resources used. We’d also want to know how much was paid to extract the resources and the costs and resources used in processing them but, of course, all that data would be collected along the way.

              Should for instance price information from rival bidder’s be public domain?

              Why should it? We’re only interested in the final sale price. How much each bidder has is already public information (although not open public as I point out above).

              Should for example everyone’s browser history be public domain and searchable?

              Nope. Nobody has a need to know except the police in the advent of a crime in which case they get a search warrant to search the persons computer.

            • Draco T Bastard

              whatever it is we do value about privacy, there have been plenty of illicit interests willing to exploit that into persuading us to believe their dark secrets are also private.

              What is privacy? What do we mean by it?

              Indications are that we don’t actually know and this lack of knowledge has allowed the con.

              • RedLogix

                Yes … I think that is the question I’m asking. Privacy is something we all take absolutely for granted, but it’s quite an elusive thing really.

                • Colonial Viper

                  If you have a smart phone, and you ever have it with you in your bedroom or bath room, you have zero privacy.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    Well, my phones in my room right now sitting next to me so should be able to tell me what I’m doing right?

            • Anne

              Yet at some level we still value privacy. In many ways it’s a peculiarly modern invention, but one we have become very attached to. Yet rarely do we see a deeper analysis of why. What advantages does it really bring to our lives that make it so important to us?

              If I may be so bold as to try and answer one small aspect of this vexatious question concerning privacy:

              From my personal past experiences, its not so much privacy that matters, but rather the ability to be in control of ones’ own life and destiny. The most vicious and distressing form of privacy invasion is the person/persons who – for whatever reason – invade your space in a covert and pernicious manner with a view to humiliating and discrediting you for some kind of personal/career or political gain. There are many documented examples of this type of ‘privacy invasion’ but most never enter the public arena.

              These individuals are more often than not acting as private citizens and are not guided by the rules of engagement as laid down for the state sector agencies. They are the hardest to bring to justice because they don’t abide by any rules, and unless the target gets lucky and is able to produce solid evidence of their activities they almost always get away with it.

              I cannot for the life of me imagine that the state run agencies are the slightest bit interested in our day to day lives. They may be in a position to acquire info. if they were so inclined, but for what purpose? They would die of boredom and ennui long before their efforts bore any fruit. On the other hand, it is imperative that checks and balances are in place to ensure there are no crossing of the boundaries as has certainly happened in the past. And this is where I have some concern. I do not trust this government in particular to always abide by the ethical standards we have come to expect in this area of governance. The Phil Goff affair is one such example and I have no doubt whatsoever that the “PM’s Office” was very much complicit in that unsavoury incident.

              Hope the above makes some sense…

  10. Colonial Viper 10

    Thanks … I can always rely on you for a thoughtful answer. My question above was not in the least rhetorical; I’m genuinely intrigued at this distinction between private and secret. The former we have universally come to regard as a good thing, the latter always a potentially bad thing.

    The simple way to view this is from the perspective of the individual citizen versus from the perspective of the establishment power elite/deep state.

    Their view is that you have nothing which is private and confidential, while everything they do, say and plan, should be as secret and hidden as they want it to be.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      Their view is that you have nothing which is private and confidential, while everything they do, say and plan, should be as secret and hidden as they want it to be.

      Which is the attitude of people who think they’re special. They’re not.

      The simple fact is that, as far as finances/economics goes, then every transaction needs to be recorded in a public database.

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