Over the past decade, a number of well-publicized data leaks have revealed the secret offshore holdings of high-net-worth individuals and multinational taxpayers, leading to a sea change in cross-border tax enforcement. Spurred by leaked data, tax authorities have prosecuted offshore tax cheats, attempted to recoup lost revenues, enacted new laws, and signed international agreements that promote “sunshine” and exchange of financial information between countries.
The conventional wisdom is that data leaks enable tax authorities to detect and punish offshore tax evasion more effectively, and that leaks are therefore socially and economically beneficial. This Article argues, however, that the conventional wisdom is too simplistic. Leak-driven lawmaking has clear benefits, but it also carries distinctive risks, including agenda setting by third parties with specific interests and the leaks’ capacity to trigger nonrational responses. Even where leak-driven lawmaking is beneficial overall, it is important to appreciate its risks when determining how to utilize and respond to leaks.
This Article is the first to thoroughly examine both the important beneficial effects of tax leaks, and their risks. It provides suggestions and cautions for making and enforcing tax law, after a leak, in order to best tap into the benefits of leaks while managing their pitfalls.