An analysis of Whistleblower Definitions

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Near and Miceli’s definition of whistleblowers as ‘people without authority or legitimate power’ who must rely on other informal bases of power to change certain activities deemed illegal, unfair or inappropriate within their organisation demeans whistleblowers. This categorization is wrong on the basis that senior auditors, board members, ombudsmen or top management officials can blow the whistle on their own organisations/employers either internally or externally[1]The scholars found that whistleblowing mainly occurs when employees or former employees believe they have proof of organisational wrongdoing. Again, this assertion negates the fact that disclosures on perceived or actual wrongdoings are acceptable for further investigations in many countries.

Furthermore, their findings show that employers usually mount pressure to persuade employees with explicit or implicit threat of retaliatory actions if they insist on making disclosures to external authorities. The assertion is flawed because certain legal provisions in Whistleblower Protection Laws cover circumstances where an employee reports directly to external authorities against existing guidelines established within the organization, if any[2]. However, one of the highpoints of Near and Miceli’s study is the emphasis on institutionalising hotlines to enable anonymous reporting in every organization—an approach which protects the identity of whistleblowers and saves them from retaliatory attacks[3]. Generally, their work titled “Organizational Dissidence: The Case of Whistle-Blowing” is widely criticized for asserting that ‘whistleblowing is an act of dissidence somewhat analogous to civil disobedience.’

         Although financial motivation is a major driving factor for most whistleblowers in the United States, Edward Snowden is believed to have acted based on ethical and moral thinking, or simply put, to defend the public interest. His exposition was not financially or politically motivated[4]. But the context and scope of ‘public interest’ have been a source of unending debates in the academic world. In this regard, the US government views Snowden’s action as an act of disloyalty to his country and a breach of the oath of allegiance. Additionally, the alleged illegal surveillance activities of the NSA are arguably necessary for global peace and security. Yet, the question of sovereignty and rights of other countries should not be ignored. With Edward Snowden’s definition of whistleblowing, it is understandable that every action has consequences.

Chelsea Manning’s case underscores the importance of confidentiality in anonymous reporting. It also shows that morality, justice and good corporate governance are relative concepts exploited by world powers to consolidate political and socio-economic status. This explains why global politics is rife with secrecy, mistrust, capitalist exploitation and horrendous classified crimes against humanity. Similar to Snowden, Manning’s motivation was based on moral and ethical grounds not financial incentives. This implies that individuals have the innate characteristics as claimed by UK’s PIDA to ‘do the right thing’ in the public interest.

Likewise, Wikileaks is continuously blowing the whistle on corrupt, illegal, unfair and unethical practices around the world without expectations of financial rewards. The organisation was established on the concept of ‘open government, accountability, and freedom of information.’ Wikileaks also claims its activities are carried out without fear or favour. But its definition of whistleblowing is smeared by certain events, During the 2016 US presidential election campaign, WikiLeaks exposed some confidential documents and emails from John Podesta (Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager) and the Democratic National Committee. Contents of the documents and emails showed that the Democrats’ national committee decision ahead of the party primaries favoured Clinton over her competitor Bernie Sanders.

This exposition from Wikileaks did not only disrupt Clinton’s progress in the elections but eventually caused huge damage that saw Donald Trump emerge winner of the 2016 US presidential election. Investigations by the US intelligence community showed high probability that Russia hacked and supplied the information to Wikileaks. In a counter claim, Wikileaks said the data was not sourced from Russia or any other country. But the defence stands disputed because Wikileaks promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party during the campaigns. This implies that the real motive of whistleblowing though disconnected from financial rewards can be manipulated to have undesirable, unexpected and disruptive outcomes in larger economic, political or socio-cultural environments.

2.3.7. Conclusion

Edward Snowden has been in exile since making the disclosure about NSA’s illegal surveillance. Chelsea Manning was honourably discharged and made to forfeit all pay and allowances after the seven-year prison sentence. The US government in 2010 launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks after the leaks from documents and videos supplied by Manning. Julian Assange, the Australian activist and founder of Wikileaks, was in Sweden at that time but was surprisingly accused of sexual misconduct. Based on the circumstance of his role in the publication of secret American documents, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for him. Although the allegations of sexual misconduct were a pretext for his extradition from Sweden to the United States, the political drama shows how willing governments are to protect national security against the public interest[5].

Thus, the underlying motive for whistleblower protection and use of financial rewards is not always ‘the public interest’ per se because the context and scope changes when powerful organizations or governments are involved.

[1] Kenny K. ‘Whistleblowing. Toward a new theory’ (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 2019) 296

[2] Gramm, C.L. and Schnell, J.F. ‘Remedy-Seeking Responses to Discrimination: Does Management-Employee Similarity Matter?’ (Emerald Group Publishing Limited: Bingley 2016) 22; 69-103

[3] Hobby C. ‘Worker and Organisational Protection: The Future of Whistleblowing in the Gig Economy’ (Emerald Publishing Limited: Bingley 2020) 107-127

[4] The Federal False Claims Act U.S.C.A. § 3729

[5] U.S.C.A. §§ 2302


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