Leak-Driven Law

79 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2017 Last revised: 22 Jul 2017

See all articles by Shu-Yi Oei

Shu-Yi Oei

Duke University School of Law

Diane M. Ring

Boston College - Law School

Date Written: February 15, 2017


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. In addition to its clear benefits, leak-driven lawmaking carries distinctive risks, including the risk of agenda setting by third parties with specific interests and the risk associated with leaks’ capacity to trigger non-rational responses. Even where leak-driven lawmaking is beneficial overall, it is important to appreciate its distinctive downside risks, in order to best design policy responses.

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.

Keywords: transparency, banks, secrecy, whistleblowers, Panama Papers, FATCA, ICIJ, journalists, intelligence, WikiLeaks, cyber, tax compliance, international tax, OECD, European Union, exchange of information, common reporting standard, social welfare, tax administration, offshore tax enforcement

JEL Classification: H20, H21, H22, H23, H24, H25, H26, H27, H29, K34

Suggested Citation

Oei, Shu-Yi and Ring, Diane M., Leak-Driven Law (February 15, 2017). UCLA Law Review, Vol. 65, 2018, Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 17-1, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 442, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2918550 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2918550

Shu-Yi Oei (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

Box 90360
Durham, NC 27708-0360
United States

Diane M. Ring

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

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