Holding the Government Accountable

United Nations: Whistleblowers Need Protection

Daniel Kaye, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, recently submitted a report to the General Assembly on the protection of whistleblowers and sources. The report highlights key elements of protections for whistleblowers, and is based in part on participation by 28 States as well as individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Among a host of best-practice protections featured in the report, the Special Rapporteur focuses particular attention on national security whistleblowers and sources, those whistleblowers who are often subject to criminal prosecution for exposing serious problems.

Notably, the report recommended a public interest balancing test for disclosures in the national security field that could be used to claim protection from retaliation or as a defense when facing prosecution. This balancing test would promote disclosures where the public interest in the information outweighs any identifiable harm to a legitimate national security interest, and requires that the whistleblower disclose no more information than reasonably necessary to expose wrongdoing. A defense for blowing the whistle in the national security field would be a welcome one, as these whistleblowers often face prosecution under the Espionage Act, which could mean years of costly litigation for simply trying to expose practices that make us less secure. This balancing test is similar to one proposed last year by Yochai Benkler, a law professor and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and supported by the Project On Government Oversight.

The full report contains many best-practice recommendations that our Congress should consider to strengthen whistleblower protections domestically.