How to fight against corruption: Citizen Users Guide

How to fight against corruption: Citizen Users Guide

Xnet is an activist group working on the defence of free culture and net neutrality, using technopolitical tools for citizen empowerment and digital democracy. ExEXGAE

Much is currently being said of corruption due to the significant number of cases that have come to light. Government and parties try to take credit so that all remains the same, but this has by no means come from their efforts.

Most of the cases that are being handled by the courts have come to light and been pursued by civil society.

We launched Bankia’s court case (Spain’s bailed-out bank) with a strategic lawsuit driven by organised citizens. The recent Bank of Spain experts’ report confirms our accusations of falsification of information in Bankia’s flotation accounts.

We also uncovered and delivered to the press important citizen leaks: “Blesa’s emails” (over 7000 corporate emails describing the criminal manoeuvres carried out by Bankia’s managing board) and the “black cards” case (misuse of opaque company credit cards for personal charges without declaring them to the Treasury). The action of one or more citizens fed up of abuse has been the fundamental motivation in these cases.

We believe that corruption, because of its consequences, is a political, ethical and social problem, but it is also a technical problem and as such it can be addressed.

Consider for instance the sense of impunity that sustains corruption. From a political, moral or social point of view it is a big problem for everyone, though from a technical point of view this feeling is our great opportunity and their great weakness. For decades those in positions of responsibility have enjoyed a high degree of impunity, not taking precautions as they were confident they would not be caught. This is why the citizens’ counterattack behind the unveiling of the major corruption cases in Spain has caught them off-guard.

This counterattack is not ideological; it is carried out by different groups in civil society.
We are doing it from:
15MpaRato: driver of the lawsuit against Bankia (for its flotation scam and the preferred shares’ case)
Xnet: who has been for years now promoting the use of the Internet to fight against abuses and improve democracy, and currently handles the Xnet’s Mailbox.
– or the X Party’s Citizen Anti-corruption commission responsible for the discovery of “Blesa’s e-mails” and the “Black Cards” scandal.

We are now sharing some general considerations we’ve learnt while fighting corruption, believing they can serve other citizens.


How can citizens fight corruption?



1. What should I report? Considering what will be denounced requires an objective analysis of both the public impact and the legal aspects. As immoral as they may seem, not all facts are punishable by law, neither are they as simple to prove as they may seem. The goal of each action is to open a crack in the wall of impunity and for that we must concentrate all our forces on a single project.

Corruption by nature branches. Each issue we investigate will lead us to further information. To investigate everything is highly tempting when you want to do justice, but unproductive when you want to be effective. Let’s focus on the roots and not climb the branches. Take a direct approach to tackle the plot of political-business collusion. This is how they will fall. This is how we are doing in the Bankia case with 15MpaRato.

2. Where to leak the information? Special precautions must be taken at this point. The vast majority of political parties and the media have no interest in investigating (it is expensive and complex), they are more interested in the news, even at the cost of obstructing the legal process. If we want to get to the root of the problem, we have to keep a clear focus to identify at bird’s eye view the most important issues we need to concentrate on. It is important not to get lost in information that moves us away from the underlying idea: to vanish the sense of impunity of those corrupt. And above all, protection of the sources is essential.

With Xnet’s Mailbox, an organised group of citizens guarantee media coverage and protection of the sources so that the information reaches the public. When the people releasing the leaks are willing to organise and fight, legal advice is also guaranteed.

3. Develop the information obtained based on the issue denounced. Our job as committed citizens does not end with being in possession and filtering certain information. In most cases, the work in itself of collecting evidence and monitoring the evolution of the information is essential. Bear in mind that groups of organised citizens, as in our case, may not always have the resources to cover all the work that a filtration entails; the work performed by the sources themselves becomes all the more important.



4. Preserve your own safety. Political parties, lawyers, media… in our experience we have been surprised to discover that almost none of them tend to use secure communication channels, often leading to a protection problem for the source. From the groups of organised citizens, we consider such tools essential. This is not secrecy or conspiracy, it is essential in a country where citizens that organise to expose corruption and abuse are not protected in any way. In other countries like the US, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, South Africa or Ireland, there is specific protection legislation and the so-called “whistleblowers” are often considered and lauded for their efforts. In other countries there is no specific protection; like in China, Turkey and, to some extent, Spain.

All leaks, if recommendations are followed, reach Xnet’s Mailbos in an entirely anonymous way, and all subsequent communications are carried out in secure communication environments (Tor network), fully protecting the source from retaliation and remaining free to continue their contribution.



5. Get organized, but with caution. As a group of citizens willing to federate their efforts and skills with others, organisation is a key issue.

Depending on the case denounced, finding the support that ends up shaping an organised group of citizens has to be carried out with caution in order to preserve your safety and that of others, as well as not to expose the information. 

Remember, it is not a question of just revealing the information but of how to reveal it. If not done at the right time, we risk putting those implicated on notice.

Over the past year Xnet has launched a pioneering initiative: a team of people visiting places to give training in media and legal tools and techniques for citizens to enhance their response abilities.

6. Cooperation. On many occasions the information gathered by sources may have nothing to do with their knowledge; this is where collaboration between citizens and journalists acquires special relevance. This is why the pioneering network launched by Xnet is so important; it involves and brings together citizens with activists, journalists (more than 40 are involved around a unique and transversal protocol, regardless of the media they may belong to), lawyers, auditors and tax inspectors, among others. Citizen collaboration is not only the best mechanism for denouncing corruption, but also for data analysis.

7. Power.Once work is completed and the evidence of the corrupt plot is published, it is time to be aware of the fact that only half of the work has been done in order to reach success.

To believe that only exposing the evidence will end political collusion and corruption is in itself a mistaken belief, for which we have never had any evidence. To avoid this information falling into oblivion and so it serves its political, communicational or judicial purposes, two elements are necessary:

A networked campaign that succeeds in spreading wildfire until everyone who was unpunished is hit. The good news is that this second part is the most stimulating and empowering part of the work.

A legal action, whenever possible.

It is because all this that 15MpaRato, Xnet and the collaboration with the X Party’s Anti-corruption commission are pioneer citizen devices, capable of catalysing all of these needs in a very efficient and agile network of active citizens. Their experience is serving as a model in Spain, and now also internationally.

The corrupt will not end corruption; only organised citizens can, and that is what we are doing.