Are Whistleblowers heroes or traitors… or just people?

Whistleblower Edward Snowden joins twitter… and gets accused of being a traitor. What is a whistleblower?


Whistleblower means what exactly?

Whistleblower - A referee blows the whistle and holds up a yellow card

Whistleblower: like in sport, they call time on foul play

A Whistleblower reports wrongdoing or illegal activity in their workplace. The official name for this is ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’.

The term “blowing the whistle” relates to sport where referees indicate foul play with a whistle.

Many companies have a whistleblowing policy. If you feel that reporting to your bosses could lead you to getting fired or unfairly treated at work you can go to a “prescribed body”; an independent person.
If you “blow the whistle” you can be protected from being fired, so long as you can give reasonable argument that the information you’ve provided shows a wrongdoing and is in the public interest. So snitching on a colleague just to settle a score probably won’t cut it.

But if you’ve signed a non-disclosure contract like the Official Secrets Act (which all spies have to do) and leak material; then you’ll be arrested. And no, you don’t need an actual whistle.


OK, gimme some examples

Whistleblower - Spy bird animation. A bird in a nest pulls out a pair of binoculars.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed America’s spy agencies had gone too far

The most famous whistleblower in recent times is Edward Snowden. He used to work for America’s spy agency, the CIA. In 2013 he leaked documents showing that America’s National Security Agency had been illegally spying on American citizens.

Snowden went on the run and is currently in Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum. Closer to home, Snowden also leaked documents that showed that the UK’s spy centre, GCHQ, had tapped wire cables to monitor masses of communication data. GCHQ also received and shared data with the National Security Agency, which was ruled illegal by a tribunal earlier this year. This sparked a debate about how much power spies should have.


whistleblower website wikileaks was set up to allow exposers to leak information

That information didn’t need to be leaked.

Transgender US soldier Chelsea Manning (previously known as Bradley), hit the headlines in 2010 when she released a video on the WikiLeaks website. The video showed an American helicopter shooting down unarmed civilians in Iraq.
WikiLeaks was set up by journalist and hacker Julian Assange. Its aim: create a space where whistleblowers could upload material and never have to meet anyone; protecting their anonymity. Chelsea Manning is currently serving 35 years jail time for the leaking of the video. Guess that anonymity thing didn’t quite work out.


The original whistleblower: FBI Associate Director Mark Felt provided information to journalists about the Watergate Scandal under the codename “Deep Throat”. Note to self; when whistleblowing always name yourself after a famous porn movie.
It was revealed that supporters of US President Nixon had attempted to bug the offices of his rivals. Secret recordings later revealed the President had known about the bugging attempt and had tried to stop a FBI investigation.  President Nixon later resigned due to the scandal.


Are whistleblowers good people or just tell-tales?

If a crime has been committed then it does seem right that the public should know about it. Especially if they are the victims of illegal surveillance.

The argument against many whistleblowers is that they put lives of soldiers, intelligence officers and civilians in danger. In the case of Snowden he broke his non-disclosure agreement by leaking the material. With all three, it could be argued that by leaking the information online or to the newspapers, that they did not report to the correct prescribed body. Naughty, Naughty.

When Edward Snowden joined Twitter he gained over 16,ooo followers in one day. Not bad going.


Not everyone was happy. Presidential candidate George Pataki posted;


Later Snowden tweeted;


So, perhaps whistleblowers aren’t heroes or traitors – just people?


Why are we blowing the whistle on this topic?

A new report says the government should be allowed to monitor our communications

A new report says the government should be allowed to monitor our communications

Edward Snowden blew the whistle on what he saw as illegal spying. The UK government now plans to create a new spying law nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter”. It allows the government increased access to online communications like email and instant messaging. #beingwatched

The Guardian explained how a new report into surveillance tactics by David Anderson QC, suggests government ministers should not have the power to authorise spying warrants. It suggests the power should be given to an independent commissioner. The report was written because of the Snowden leaks. However it does recommend that the government should be allowed to keep its surveillance powers.

A recent report by the Sunday Times states that MI6 spies have been moved out of the field because their cover had been blown after Russia and China had seen documents leaked by Snowden. Whether this is true or not, it has re-opened the debate about the role of the whistleblower.


What we learned; whistleblowers should be able to expose illegal activity, but there is still a massive debate about how this should be done.

Whistleblowers; heroes or traitors? What would you do if you had access to information like Edward Snowden?


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