Snowden and Others: Panama Papers Show Whistleblowers 'Vital' to Democracy
'More than ever,' Snowden said, 'the role of the whistleblower in a free society has become not only desirable but vital.'
While the world continues to unpack the significance of the Panama Papers, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers are extolling the bravery of the anonymous individual who brought this global web of corruption to light.
The 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca confirm that "the most privileged and the most powerful members of society are operating by a different set of rules," Snowden said Tuesday evening.
As the biggest whistleblower leak in history, Snowden added that the Panama Papers show that, "more than ever, the role of the whistleblower in a free society has become not only desirable but vital."
Speaking via video link before an audience at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, the NSA whistleblower continues to claim political asylum in Moscow to avoid prosecution for his role in exposing U.S. government surveillance in 2013.
According to the Toronto Star:
Snowden lauded the "fruits of the investigation" but emphasized that global reform won’t come in one night or as a result of a single protest.
"By developing a culture of transparency and accountability where we not only know what government is doing, but recognize that we have not just the right but the responsibility to actually act in changing the nature of government ... directly holds these individuals to account," he said.
"We can achieve change. And ultimately whether we do or not is a decision that falls to us."
Indeed, as news of the leaks first broke on Sunday, Snowden recognized the heroism behind the revelations, tweeting:
"The media cannot operate in a vacuum," he added Tuesday, "the participation of the public is absolutely necessary to achieving change."
As the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported, the Panama Papers whistleblower had a few specific conditions: no physical meetings, communication exclusively over encrypted files, and anonymity, stating: "My life is in danger."
"Why are you doing this?" SZ asked.
"I want to make these crimes public," they replied.
Stéphanie Gibaud, the former head of communications for UBS France who, beginning in 2008, helped expose a massive tax evasion scandal, echoed Snowden's praise for the Panama Papers whistleblower.
"This leak confirms that whistleblowers are the ones who take risks, they can prove the origin and thus the quality of the information leaked," she told reporters Wednesday. "Without whistleblowers, tax evasion and money laundering would still be subjects laying in darkness and nobody would be aware of the happy few enjoying very special banking facilities. Protecting whistleblowers is a must."
The Panama Papers have already sparked calls for international banking reform, but the prosecution of whistleblowers, particularly in the United States, remains at an all-time high. Under the 1917 Espionage Act, the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers and whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.
Quoting ACLU legal director Jameel Jaffer, the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald pointed out this week that, amid the ever-expanding crackdown on truthtellers, "the deeper scandal is what's legal, not what's not."
"The key revelation," Greenwald writes, "is not the illegality of the specific behavior in question but rather the light shined on how our political systems function and for whose benefit they work. That was true of the Snowden leak, and it’s true of the Panama Papers as well."