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Do we have a right to privacy? This is just one of the issues thrown up by the release of the so-called Panama Papers. The affairs of the super-rich are under scrutiny as never before, so when do the authorities have the right to know everything about your finances and when is it fair for you to shield your wealth from prying eyes?

The current debate is blurring the line between tax evasion, which is illegal, and tax avoidance, which is a normal part of financial planning. Questions have been raised about whether it is ever morally right to use an offshore centre.

Yet there are legitimate reasons for privacy, particularly for many of the entrepreneurs and philanthropists profiled in this special edition. Security considerations can be critical for the wealthy, as can a need to avoid rows over succession — and to be able to control the information flowing to the next generation.

No one is denying some offshore companies have been used to dodge tax — although Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the row, has denied any wrongdoing — but that is not their only purpose.

The decision by the UK prime minister, David Cameron, to publish his tax returns was a mistake, setting a bad precedent that strikes a blow against the principle of privacy.

The dictum that if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide does not always hold true. Sometimes it really is no one else’s business.

hugo.greenhalgh@ft.com

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