Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and other whistleblowers have sparked an intense debate on the ethics of leaking secrets. Some view these people as martyrs, others view them as traitors. Numerous laws and acts have been put in place to protect those who choose to expose an entity’s wrongdoings, but where do we draw the line between honest whistleblowing and smear campaigns?
The subject of a leak and the method in which a whisteblower announces their findings all play a role in the ethics of a case. Is the accuser attempting to enact revenge on a corporation by tarnishing their reputation, or are they genuinely trying to alert the public of fraud, harmful practices, and other misdeeds? Many employees keep quiet when they witness corruption because they fear losing their jobs and risk damaging their chances of future employment. And even if an attempt is made, businesses will go to great lengths to cover their tracks, including forcing employees to sign contracts that prevent workers from speaking up about company policies. Consider the case of Donna Busche, whose story was mentioned in this Washington Post article. According to the Post, Busche was fired after raising safety concerns about the nuclear facility she managed. The nondisclosure agreement prevented Busche and her coworkers from reporting mishaps, and also made it impossible for them to receive financial rewards for whistleblowing. Like many others before her, Busche was accused of being fired for other reasons, despite her claims that she did it for ethical reasons.
Measures such as the Dodd-Frank act of 2010 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement act of 2012 are meant to protect people like Busche. However, some believe that the government isn’t doing enough to enforce these rules, while others believe that the law encourages people to lie for financial gain. Dodd-Frank rewards whistleblowers with up to 30 percent of the recovery, which can generate millions for the prosecution in a big case.
Going Against the Government
The legality of whistleblowing becomes even more muddled when it involves the government. Snowden’s most recent revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) have some lauding him as a hero, while others accuse him of treason.
Most recently, a women by the name of Sabrina De Sousa is being punished for her involvement in the kidnapping of Abu Omar. Aljazeera America ran an article about the former CIA operative, who claims to be used as a “scapegoat” for the CIA. De Sousa was working with the CIA in Italy at the time of the kidnapping, but made several attempts to alert Congress to investigate the CIA’s actions. She believed that their treatment of Omar was a huge mistake, and after failing to receive support, found herself being accused for being the mastermind of the operation.
A Difficult Decision
Although the majority of Americans won’t be involved in cases like Snowden’s and De Sousa’s, some may find themselves in a difficult position. A whistleblower is oftentimes the spark needed to ignite a corporate fraud case. Before deciding to go public with information, it’s important for potential whistleblowers to look over contracts they may have signed and learn more about their state’s laws. Even corporations who find themselves the subject of a leak will need to launch an investigation to prove the accuracy of such claims.