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Panama Papers: Soon searchable by everyone thanks to the cloud

Simon Huelsboemer | April 29, 2016
How did journalists organize and analyze 2.6 terabytes of data?

CW: How many people were and are connected to the Panama Papers project at ICIJ on the technical side?

Cabra: ICIJ has a very small staff of 12 people, a mixed team of programmers and journalists. Half of them -- six -- are in my team, the data and research unit. In this unit we are all involved in the processing of the data, but mainly there are three programmers who take care of the technical issues. One programmer was focused on the unstructured data in the documents, another one was focused on the structured data, and Neo4j and the data analysis.

CW: What will be the next steps with the Panama Papers project from a technical point of view?

Cabra: We've made a big breakthrough on the stories. We exposed names in the public interest including names of hundreds of politicians in more than 50 countries. In early May we are going to release the names of more than 200,000 companies in tax havens that were incorporated by Mossack Fonseca. We are going to put that into the cloud on our website for everybody to use. Right now on we have "offshore leaks" where we already put out the names of hundreds of thousands of offshore companies. We are going to add the Panama Papers data to that.

So in early May we will have this search engine on the website where anybody, from journalists to citizens to law enforcement to tax authorities, are going to be able to search these companies and the people behind them. We will also use our backend tools -- Neo4j and -- to offer visualization. I believe this will be a big step because thousands of people will use this database.

CW: Why do you think that?

Cabra: Out of everything ICIJ has produced in the past years, our most successful product has been the offshore leaks database. Even today -- before the Panama Papers [are put online] -- the most viewed thing that we have on our website is the offshore leaks database. I am pretty confident that we are going to have a big success with the database because now we have even more eyes and more people interested in this offshore data. Therefore I think that people will use it a lot. I know for a fact for example that with the offshore leaks data we released in June 2013, tax authorities used it. For example in South Korea they recovered millions of dollars of unpaid taxes just by using the data that we released publicly. So I do foresee that a lot of people are going to be interested in the end.


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