Maybe all the rich people and government big shots who were hiding their business affairs in Panama should’ve kept their secret records on an iPhone. Then maybe The New York Times would’ve defended them.
It certainly defended Apple when the iPhone maker refused to help the FBI break into the iPhone that had been used by the Islamist terrorists who slew 14 innocent people in San Bernardino. It even praised Apple for refusing to help.
Yet it’s joining in the feeding frenzy over what are coming to be known as the Panama Papers. They involve millions of private documents that were filched from a Panama law firm and leaked to the press.
The Times is now calling for major investigations into money laundering and tax evasion. It’s alarmed at the prospect of “vast wealth hidden by politicians and powerful figures across the globe.”
Already the prime minister of Iceland has quit. Apparently the leaked documents suggest he and his wife had an interest in a Virgin Islands-based company (Iceland’s own banking system collapsed in 2008).
Friends of Vladimir Putin are reportedly mentioned in the Panama Papers. So, apparently, are members of the Communist Chinese politburo. Soccer federation FIFA’s new chief, too.
Who knows what might be next? Investigations — or calls for them — are erupting in France, China, Germany, Austria, South Korea and England, among other places. The North Koreans could be sweating.
No charges have yet been filed against anyone as a result of these leaks. Yet the Financial Times is already issuing a column calling for the European Union to impose American-style “big stick” tax-withholding on certain payments.
Odd, though. Where were most of the do-gooders (the FT excepted) when the FBI was frantically trying to gain access to the infamous iPhone? It might be able to tell us to whom the killers had been talking and whether they were planning more attacks.
Yet Apple head Tim Cook wouldn’t bestir himself. He dug in even against a court order that Apple help. Some of the best legal minds insisted the government lacks constitutional authority to compel Apple to comply.
Maybe they’re right. But the Constitution doesn’t forbid Apple from springing-to and pitching in voluntarily. That’s what any American hero — Audie Murphy, one can imagine, or Sergeant York — would have done.
Not Apple. It fretted about devaluing its brand, and got cheered by all the right people.
The Gray Lady editorialized that the FBI’s eagerness to find out what was on the phone was “understandable,” but praised Apple for refusing to help. How sweet it was that the FBI managed to crack the secrecy of the terrorists’ iPhone anyhow.
I carry no brief for those using offshore companies and bank accounts to skirt tax laws. I’m all for using the duly constituted courts to go after them when laws are broken. But for years I’ve argued that tax havens can serve a benign purpose.
They put pressure on law-abiding governments to keep taxation within non-abusive limits, something that is increasingly rare in the age of socialism. I’ve covered this for decades, in Europe and Asia.
So why are the do-gooders who are so protective of iPhone data when it belongs — or relates — to terrorists nonetheless so delighted about the disclosure of data when the data belong to the rich? Or relates to their property?
Property rights, it seems, just don’t interest the do-gooders. They don’t believe individuals have a right to property or to due process before their stuff is taken. They want to outlaw all cash so it’s easy to levy taxes.
They don’t give a fig about our battlefield military secrets. The Times even went into a journalistic partnership with WikiLeaks. It just doesn’t want to look at the enemy’s secrets if they’re on an iPhone in San Bernardino.
Maybe the Panama Papers will prompt someone to set up an entire bank on a cellphone (a whole bank in your back pocket). G-men wanting to look at your offshore bank account will have to pry your iPhone out of your cold dead hand.