(Redirected from Whistleblowers)

Whistleblowing (also whistle-blowing or whistle blowing) is the activity of a person, often an employee, revealing information about activity within a private or public organization that is deemed illegal, immoral, illicit, unsafe or fraudulent. Whistleblowers can use a variety of internal or external channels to communicate information or allegations. Over 83% of whistleblowers report internally to a supervisor, human resources, compliance, or a neutral third party within the company, hoping that the company will address and correct the issues. A whistleblower can also bring allegations to light by communicating with external entities, such as the media, government, or law enforcement.[1] Some countries legislate as to what constitutes a protected disclosure, and the permissible methods of presenting a disclosure. Whistleblowing can occur in the private sector or the public sector.

Whistleblowers often face retaliation for their disclosure, including termination of employment. Several other actions may also be considered retaliatory, including unreasonable increase in workloads, reduction of hours, preventing task completion, mobbing or bullying.[2] Laws in many countries attempt to provide protection for whistleblowers and regulate whistleblowing activities. These laws tend to adopt different approaches to public and private sector whistleblowing.

Whistleblowers do not always achieve their aims; for their claims to be credible and successful, they must have compelling evidence so that the government or regulating body can investigate them and hold corrupt companies and/or government agencies to account.[3] To succeed, they must also persist in their efforts over what can often be years, in the face of extensive, coordinated and prolonged efforts that institutions can deploy to silence, discredit, isolate, and erode their financial and mental wellbeing.

Whistleblowers have been likened to ‘Prophets at work’,[4] but many lose their jobs, are victims of campaigns to discredit and isolate them, suffer financial and mental pressures, and some lose their lives. Such examples include John Barnett (whistleblower), who died on the day he was due to give deposition testimony as a whistleblower against aerospace company Boeing, and David Kelly (weapons expert), who was found dead two days after the UK parliamentary Intelligence and Security and Foreign Affairs Select Committees publicized that he would be called about the dubious claims used to convince the UK Parliament to vote to invade Iraq.



Origin of term


U.S. civic activist Ralph Nader is said to have coined the phrase in the early 1970s[5] in order to avoid the negative connotations found in other words such as "informer" and "snitch".[6] However, the origins of the word date back to the 19th century.

The word is linked to the use of a whistle to alert the public or a crowd about such problems as the commission of a crime or the breaking of rules during a game. The phrase whistle blower attached itself to law enforcement officials in the 19th century because they used a whistle to alert the public or fellow police.[7] Sports referees, who use a whistle to indicate an illegal or foul play, also were called whistle blowers.[8][9]

An 1883 story in Wisconsin's Janesville Gazette called a policeman who used his whistle to alert citizens about a riot a whistle blower, without the hyphen. By the year 1963, the phrase had become a hyphenated word, whistle-blower. The word began to be used by journalists in the 1960s for people who revealed wrongdoing, such as Nader. It eventually evolved into the compound word whistleblower.[7]

Channels for whistleblowing


Internal channels


Most whistleblowers are internal whistleblowers, who report misconduct on a fellow employee or superior within their company through anonymous reporting mechanisms often called hotlines.[10] Within such situations, circumstances and factors can cause a person to either act on the spot to prevent/stop illegal and unacceptable behavior, or report it.[11] There are some reasons to believe that people are more likely to take action with respect to unacceptable behavior, within an organization, if there are complaint systems that offer not just options dictated by the planning and control organization, but a choice of options for absolute confidentiality.[12]

Anonymous reporting mechanisms,[13] as mentioned previously, help foster a climate whereby employees are more likely to report or seek guidance regarding potential or actual wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. The coming anti-bribery management systems standard, ISO 37001,[14] includes anonymous reporting as one of the criteria for the new standard.

External channels


External whistleblowers report misconduct to outside people or entities. In these cases, depending on the nature of the information, whistleblowers may report the misconduct to lawyers, the media, law enforcement or watchdog agencies, or other local, state, or federal agencies. In some cases, external whistleblowing is encouraged by offering monetary rewards.

Third-party channels


Sometimes organizations use external agencies to create a secure and anonymous reporting channel for their employees, often referred to as a whistleblowing hotline. In addition to protecting the identity of the whistleblower, these services are designed to inform the individuals at the top of the organizational pyramid of misconduct, usually via integration with specialized case management software.[citation needed]

Implementing a third-party solution is often the easiest way for an organization to promote compliance, or to offer a whistleblowing policy where one did not previously exist. An increasing number of companies and authorities use third-party services in which the whistleblower is also anonymous to the third-party service provider, which is made possible via toll-free phone numbers and/or web or app-based solutions that apply asymmetrical encryption.[citation needed]

Private versus public sectors


Private sector whistleblowing


Private sector whistleblowing is arguably more prevalent and suppressed in society today.[15] An example of private sector whistleblowing is when an employee reports to someone in a higher position such as a manager or to external factors, such as their lawyer or the police. Whistleblowing in the private sector is typically not high-profile or openly discussed in major news outlets, though occasionally, third parties expose human rights violations and exploitation of workers.[16]

Many governments attempt to protect such whistleblowers. In the United States, for example, there are organizations such as the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (FSGO) that protect whistleblowers in the private sector. Thus, despite government efforts to help regulate the private sector, the employees must still weigh their options. They either expose the company and stand the moral and ethical high ground; or expose the company, lose their job, their reputation and potentially the ability to be employed again. According to a study at the University of Pennsylvania, out of three hundred whistleblowers studied, sixty-nine percent had foregone that exact situation and were either fired or forced to retire after taking the ethical high ground. It is outcomes like these that make it all that much harder to accurately track the prevalence of whistleblowing in the private sector.[17]

Public sector whistleblowing

Czech whistleblower Libor Michálek was fired from his position after exposing high-level corruption.

Recognition of the value of public sector whistleblowing has been growing over the last 50 years. In the United States, for example, both state and Federal statutes have been put in place to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. The United States Supreme Court ruled that public sector whistleblowers are protected from retaliation by their First Amendment rights.[18] After many federal whistleblowers were covered in high-profile media cases, laws were finally introduced to protect government whistleblowers. These laws were enacted to help prevent corruption and encourage people to expose misconduct, illegal, or dishonest activity for the good of society.[19] People who choose to act as whistleblowers often suffer retaliation from their employer. They most likely are fired because they are an at-will employee, which means they can be fired without a reason. There are exceptions in place for whistleblowers who are at-will employees. Even without a statute, numerous decisions encourage and protect whistleblowing on grounds of public policy. Statutes state that an employer shall not take any adverse employment actions against any employee in retaliation for a good-faith report of a whistleblowing action or cooperating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit arising under said action.[18] Federal whistleblower legislation includes a statute protecting all government employees. In the federal civil service, the government is prohibited from taking, or threatening to take, any personnel action against an employee because the employee disclosed information that they reasonably believed showed a violation of law, gross mismanagement, and gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public safety or health. To prevail on a claim, a federal employee must show that a protected disclosure was made, that the accused official knew of the disclosure, that retaliation resulted, and that there was a genuine connection between the retaliation and the employee's action.[18]

Whistleblowing in the scientific community


Research fraud involves data, processes, or observations that were never there to begin with or later added on to fit a claim or narrative. A case involving the scientific community engaging in research fraudulence is that of Dr. Cyril Burt. Dr Cyril Burt was a British psychologist who proposed that he had discovered a heritable factor for intelligence based on studying twins.[20] Dr. Oliver Gillie, a former colleague of Dr. Burt, inquired about Dr. Burt’s work, doubting the authenticity of the data and the certain twins that Dr. Burt was basing his research on. Dr. Gillies's inquiry revealed that there were discrepancies to Dr. Burt’s work with inconsistencies in the twin's birth dates  particularly with the absence of records for twins to participate in the study, the falsification of data, and the “invention of crucial facts to support his controversial theory that intelligence is largely inherited.” [21]  This led to the eventual retraction of Dr. Burt’s work.

Data manipulation is the changing or omitting of data or outcomes in such a way that the research is not accurately portrayed in the research record. Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, a South Korean stem cell researcher gained international recognition for his groundbreaking work on cloning and stem cell research. Dr. Woo-Suk had a claim to successfully clone human embryos and derived patient-specific stem cell lines, forwarding the field of regenerative medicine which was published in the Journal of Science.[22] Dr. Kim Seon-Jung expressed his concerns regarding the accuracy of the research data and the ethical conduct of the experiments. Independent committees, as well as journalists, scrutinized the research data and methodology leading to an eventual retraction of his work.[23]

Ethical violations can fall under the following: altering or making up new data to meet a specific goal, adjusting how data is shown or explained, looking at data in a biased manner, and leaving out parts about data analysis and conclusions. Dr. Paolo Macchiarini is well-known within the scientific community as a thoracic surgeon and former regenerative researcher. Dr Macchiarini claimed to have made profound advancements in trachea transplantation by using synthetic tracheal scaffolds planted with the patient’s own stem cells. The goal was that the stem cells would eventually provide the patient with a suitable replacement trachea.[24] Dr. Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, a member of Dr. Machiarini’s research team, raised concerns about the accuracy of the reported results and the ethical conduct of the experiments. Dr. Macchiarini’s ethical violations include exaggeration of success, failure to disclose the adverse post-operational effects, and complications of the surgery. Patients experienced severe health problems; several died post-surgery.[25] The acts of Dr. Macchiarini led to the retractions of research articles from the Lancet, the termination of his academic positions, and criminal inquiries in Sweden. It also sparked concerns over the supervision and control of clinical trials utilizing experimental techniques.



Individual harm, damage to public trust, and threats to national security are three categories of harm that may come as a result of whistleblowing. Revealing a whistleblower's identity can automatically put their life in danger. Some media outlets associate words like "traitor" and "treason" with whistleblowers, and in many countries around the world, the punishment for treason is the death penalty, even if whoever allegedly committed treason may not have caused anyone physical harm. In some instances, whistleblowers must flee their country to avoid public scrutiny, threats of death or physical harm, and in some cases criminal charges.

Whistleblowers are often protected under law from employer retaliation, but in many cases, punishment such as termination, suspension, demotion, wage garnishment, and/or harsh mistreatment by other employees occurs.[26] A 2009 study found that up to 38% of whistleblowers experienced professional retaliation in some form, including wrongful termination.[citation needed] Following dismissal, whistleblowers may struggle to find employment due to damaged reputations, poor references, and blacklisting. The socioeconomic impact of whistleblowing through loss of livelihood and family strain may also impact whistleblowers' psychological well-being. Whistleblowers often experience immense stress as a result of litigation regarding harms such as unfair dismissal, which they often face with little or no support from unions. Whistleblowers who continue to pursue their concerns may also face long battles with official bodies such as regulators and government departments.[27][28] Such bodies may reproduce the "institutional silence" adopted by employers, adding to whistleblowers' stress and difficulties.[29] Thus, whistleblowers often suffer great injustice that is never acknowledged or rectified.[30]

In a few cases, however, harm is done by the whistleblower to innocent people.[31] Whistleblowers can make unintentional mistakes, and investigations can be tainted by the fear of negative publicity.[31] An example occurred in the Canadian health ministry, when a new employee wrongly concluded that nearly every research contract she saw in 2012 involved malfeasance.[31][32] The end result was the sudden firing of seven people, false and public threats of a criminal investigation, and the death of one researcher by suicide.[31][32] The government ultimately paid the victims millions of dollars for lost pay, slander, and other harms, in addition to CA $2.41 million spent on the subsequent 2015 investigation into the false charges.[31][32]

Attitudes toward whistleblowers

Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, including more than 11 in solitary confinement.

Whistleblowers are seen by some as selfless martyrs for public interest and organizational accountability; others view them as "traitors" or "defectors". Some even accuse them of solely pursuing personal glory and fame, or view their behavior as motivated by greed in qui tam cases.[citation needed] Culturally it still has connotations of betrayal, from 'snitching' at one level to 'denunciations' at the other. Speaking out is difficult, especially in a culture where this is not promoted or even actively discouraged.[33] Some academics (such as Thomas Faunce) feel that whistleblowers should at least be entitled to a rebuttable presumption that they are attempting to apply ethical principles in the face of obstacles and that whistleblowing would be more respected in governance systems if it had a firmer academic basis in virtue ethics.[34][35]

It is likely that many people do not even consider whistleblowing not only because of fear of retaliation but also because of fear of losing relationships both at and outside work.[36]

Persecution of whistleblowers has become a serious issue in many parts of the world:

Employees in academia, business or government might become aware of serious risks to health and the environment, but internal policies might pose threats of retaliation to those who report these early warnings. Private company employees in particular might be at risk of being fired, demoted, denied raises and so on for bringing environmental risks to the attention of appropriate authorities. Government employees could be at a similar risk for bringing threats to health or the environment to public attention, although perhaps this is less likely.[37]

There are examples of "early warning scientists" being harassed for bringing inconvenient truths about impending harm to the notice of the public and authorities.[38] There have also been cases of young scientists being discouraged from entering controversial scientific fields for fear of harassment.[37]

In order to help whistleblowers, private organizations have formed whistleblower legal defense funds or support groups. Examples include the National Whistleblower Center[39] in the United States and Whistleblowers UK[40] and Public Concern at Work (PCaW)[41] in the United Kingdom. Depending on the circumstances, it is not uncommon for whistleblowers to be ostracized by their coworkers, discriminated against by future potential employers, or even fired from their organization. A campaign directed at whistleblowers with the goal of eliminating them from the organization is referred to as mobbing. It is an extreme form of workplace bullying wherein the group is set against the targeted individual.[42]

Psychological impact


There is limited research on the psychological impacts of whistle blowing. However, poor experiences with whistleblowing can cause a prolonged and prominent assault on the well-being of the whistleblower. As workers attempt to address concerns, they are often met with a wall of silence and hostility by management or colleagues.[43] Depression is often reported by whistleblowers, and suicidal thoughts may occur in up to about 10%.[44][45] General deterioration in health and self care has been described.[46] The range of symptomatology shares many of the features of posttraumatic stress disorder, though there is debate about whether the trauma experienced by whistleblowers meets diagnostic thresholds.[47] Increased stress-related physical illness has also been described in whistleblowers.[45][48]

The stresses involved in whistleblowing can be huge and may deter whistleblowing out of fear of failure and reprisals.[49] Some whistleblowers speak of overwhelming and persistent distress, drug and alcohol problems, paranoid behavior at work, acute anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.[50] This fear may indeed be justified because an individual who feels threatened by whistleblowing may plan the career destruction of the "complainant" by reporting fictitious errors or rumors.[51] This technique, labelled as "gaslighting", is a common approach used by organizations to manage employees who cause difficulty by raising concerns.[52] In extreme cases, this technique involves the organization or manager proposing that the complainant's mental health is unstable.[30] Organizations also often attempt to ostracize and isolate whistleblowers by undermining their concerns by suggesting that they are groundless, carrying out inadequate investigations, or ignoring them altogether. Whistleblowers may also be disciplined, suspended, and reported to professional bodies upon manufactured pretexts.[27][28]

Such extreme experiences of threat and loss inevitably cause severe distress and sometimes mental illness, sometimes lasting for years afterwards. This mistreatment also deters others from coming forward with concerns. Thus, poor practices remain hidden behind a wall of silence, and prevent any organization from experiencing the improvements that may be afforded by intelligent failure.[50][29] Some whistleblowers who break ranks with their organizations have had their mental stability questioned, such as Adrian Schoolcraft, the NYPD veteran who alleged falsified crime statistics in his department and was forcibly committed to a mental institution.[53] Conversely, the emotional strain of a whistleblower investigation is devastating to the accused's family.[54]



Ethics is the set of moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. Deeper questions and theories of whistleblowing and why people choose to do so can be studied through an ethical approach. Whistleblowing is a topic of several myths and inaccurate definitions. Leading arguments in the ideological camp maintain that whistleblowing is the most basic of ethical traits and simply telling the truth to stop illegal harmful activities or fraud against the government/taxpayers.[55][56] In the opposite camp, many corporations and corporate or government leaders see whistleblowing as being disloyal for breaching confidentiality, especially in industries that handle sensitive client or patient information.[55][57] Hundreds of laws grant protection to whistleblowers, but stipulations can easily cloud that protection and leave them vulnerable to retaliation and sometimes even threats and physical harm. However, the decision and action has become far more complicated with recent advancements in technology and communication.[55]

The ethical implications of whistleblowing can be negative as well as positive. Some have argued that public sector whistleblowing plays an important role in the democratic process by resolving principal–agent problems.[58] However, sometimes employees may blow the whistle as an act of revenge. Rosemary O'Leary explains this in her short volume on a topic called guerrilla government. "Rather than acting openly, guerrillas often choose to remain "in the closet", moving clandestinely behind the scenes, salmon swimming upstream against the current of power. Over the years, I have learned that the motivations driving guerrillas are diverse. The reasons for acting range from the altruistic (doing the right thing) to the seemingly petty (I was passed over for that promotion). Taken as a whole, their acts are as awe inspiring as saving human lives out of a love of humanity and as trifling as slowing the issuance of a report out of spite or anger."[59] For example, of the more than 1,000 whistleblower complaints that are filed each year with the Pentagon's Inspector General, about 97 percent are not substantiated.[60] It is believed throughout the professional world that an individual is bound to secrecy within their work sector. Discussions of whistleblowing and employee loyalty usually assume that the concept of loyalty is irrelevant to the issue or more commonly, that whistleblowing involves a moral choice that pits the loyalty that an employee owes an employer against the employee's responsibility to serve the public interest.[61] Robert A. Larmer describes the standard view of whistleblowing in the Journal of Business Ethics by explaining that an employee possesses prima facie (based on the first impression; accepted as correct until proved otherwise) duties of loyalty and confidentiality to their employers and that whistleblowing cannot be justified except on the basis of a higher duty to the public good.[61] It is important to recognize that in any relationship which demands loyalty the relationship works both ways and involves mutual enrichment.[62][full citation needed]

The ethics of Edward Snowden's actions have been widely discussed and debated in news media and academia worldwide.[63] Snowden released classified intelligence to the American people in an attempt to allow Americans to see the inner workings of the government. A person is diligently tasked with the conundrum of choosing to be loyal to the company or to blow the whistle on the company's wrongdoing. Discussions on whistleblowing generally revolve around three topics: attempts to define whistleblowing more precisely, debates about whether and when whistleblowing is permissible, and debates about whether and when one has an obligation to blow the whistle.[64][full citation needed]



Many whistleblowers have stated that they were motivated to take action to put an end to unethical practices after witnessing injustices in their businesses or organizations.[65] A 2009 study found that whistleblowers are often motivated to take action when they notice a sharp decline in ethical practices, as opposed to a gradual worsening.[66] There are generally two metrics by which whistleblowers determine if a practice is unethical. The first metric involves a violation of the organization's bylaws or written ethical policies. These violations allow individuals to concretize and rationalize blowing the whistle.[67] On the other hand, "value-driven" whistleblowers are influenced by their personal codes of ethics. In these cases, whistleblowers have been criticized for being driven by personal biases.[68]

In addition to ethics, social and organizational pressure are a motivating forces. A 2012 study shows that individuals are more likely to blow the whistle when others know about the wrongdoing, because they fear the consequences of keeping silent.[69] In cases where one person is responsible for wrongdoing, the whistleblower may file a formal report, rather than directly confronting the wrongdoer, because confrontation would be more emotionally and psychologically stressful.[70][71][72] Furthermore, individuals may be motivated to report unethical behavior when they believe their organizations will support them.[73] Professionals in management roles may feel responsibility to blow the whistle to uphold the values and rules of their organizations.[74]

The 13-step program used by institutions against whistleblowers


Ad hoc measures to punish, silence and discredit whistleblowers have been commonplace for decades, in all sectors: commercial, industrial, government and para-governmental, health and social care, and education (particularly Higher Education[75]).

However as legal protections for whistleblowers have ostensibly increased, the operations to punish, suppress and discredit whistleblowers have professionalized. Large institutions can purchase training to execute (or covertly hire teams of 1-3 consultants to run operations to execute) a 13-step program (or variations thereof) designed to remove the threat that whistleblowers represent, all the while presenting an outward image (supported by a document trail) that they are only following processes, and indeed are trying their best to take care of a disgruntled, untrustworthy and mentally-disturbed employee.

The following comes from the training for such programs. This is sought by, and provided for, institutions on a discrete basis to avoid bad publicity, and so it is very difficult to find public references for it unless one has attended such training. The secrecy surrounding this program is one of its strengths, as whistleblowers are unaware of what is going on. Because of that secrecy, it is difficult to be sure whether the case studies cited below are the result of the implementation of part or all of that program, with only the inclusion, sequence and pattern of activities giving clues.

Although officially there are laws to protect whistleblowers, large institutions guilty of transgressions can engage in this 13-step program to try to remove the threat presented by the whistleblowers themselves, protecting the institution and its leadership by:

  • undermining the credibility, mental health and financial resources of the whistleblower,
  • isolating them from their colleagues and support structures,
  • finding, through formal investigation, that the whistleblower to blame in the original and/or related investigations, and ensuring the whistleblower’s colleagues and potential future employers find out about this,
  • gaslighting the whistleblower so that their mental robustness is no longer up to the fight (as Michael Woodford said after identifying corruption at Olympus, ‘“At times I felt I was in Alice in Wonderland and I questioned my sanity. I was completely isolated”,[76]
  • creating the conditions to fuel family tensions at home for the whistleblower (as Harry Templeton, who was fired for blowing the whistle on Robert Maxwell’s $400-million theft from the Mirror-group pension fund, stated: “I had to bring my problems home to my family… It was like banging your head against a brick wall”),[76]
  • ensuring that the whistleblower appears to their former colleagues, friends, family and any external regulators or assessors to be the mentally-disturbed, disgruntled (and possibly criminal) person that the institution portrays them to be, without ever leaving evidence that the institution itself manufactured that portrayal.

The whistleblower, in turn, is unaware of this structured program and team of consultants arrayed against them, and so is more easily manipulated by the following steps.

Step 1 is called “The Trusted Leader”. In Step 1, the management of the institution will try to win the confidence of the whistleblower by fronting a figure who is senior to the whistleblower to take charge of the investigation, and who appears to be horrified at the whistleblower’s story. Generally institutions should chose the most senior person who, whilst the institution would like to protect them, is expendable should the need arise (which means ensuring the TL transfers to a promotion in another institution, should the institution fail in discrediting the whistleblower). Therefore, if the whistleblower whistleblows to their line manager, it is preferable to pass this to a member of the leadership team (but not to the head of the organisation) to act as TL. This allows the institution’s leadership to win the trust of the whistleblower and so enact Steps 2 and 3. The position of Trusted Leader (TL) is a particularly valuable one to weaponize against the whistleblower whilst they are unaware of it, because:

  • the TL has the power and credibility to brief against the whistleblower to devastating effect, and is backed by on-staff legal department - this is especially the case if the TM is high within the leadership structure of the organisation, or can influence someone who is,
  • the TL is often well-versed in the needs of influential third-parties whose investment in the TL’s institution might be harmed if the whistleblower is not discredited.

As Aubrey Blumsohn said on leaving the University of Sheffield over the unethical information-sharing and research publication tactics to promote drugs funded by Proctor and Gamble, ‘There were so many people in prominent leadership positions who behaved so appallingly, I just couldn’t carry on within the profession. I just felt sick about the whole thing’.[75] Frustrated at having every effort he made to try to get the university to correct the problem, Blumsohn told the University they left him with no option but to inform the media. He was suspended and notice was disseminated that he might lose his job because of breach of contract with “conduct incompatible with the duties of office”, including “briefing journalists” and “distributing information, including a Times Higher article, to third parties with apparent intent to cause embarrassment”. Blumsohn had to find employment outside of academia and without medical registration. He concluded: ‘I’m not sure other universities would necessarily have behaved differently from Sheffield. When millions of pounds are at stake both in private fees for academics and university funding, and a pharmaceutical company is wanting you to dance, the pressure to go along and to get staff to remain quiet is overwhelming’.[75]

Harinder Bahra similarly found the reputational damage done to the whistleblowing by one university tars their career in the next, when he left Southampton for Brunel.[75]

Whilst Universities can punish whistleblowers who expose corrupt practices they would rather keep hidden, they can be remarkably tolerant of hiring trusted leaders who gained reputations for conducting and condoning corrupt practices (as when Southampton University in the UK hired Dean of Law from the University of Manitoba who left Canada after being accused of misusing faculty funds.[77]

This tactic (of accusing the whistleblower of breach of contract if they whistleblow to an outside party) is a common way to intimidate and punish the whistleblower (as in the sacking of Professor Jane Hutton [78]).

Step 2 (“Keep promises oral”) advises the institution that all communications between the Trusted Leader and the whistleblower should be oral, so that these initial promises and assurances (and the later oral threats) can all be denied. There will undeniably be written communications, but the institution can draft these knowing how they can later be used to create the impression the institution was acting honorably.

In Step 3 (“Greeks bearing gifts”), the institution further nudges the whistleblower into trusting the Trusted Leader (TL) of the institution and their internal investigation, by offering the whistleblower a number of named individuals who will “work solely and confidentially to support the whistleblower” from Human Resources (HR) and the counselling service etc. This provides a formal paper trail that the institution is supporting the whistleblower, while providing an environment where the whistleblower divulges plans and weaknesses that the counsellor/HR can then feed back to the institution to secretly weaponize against the whistleblower.

Step 4 (“Keep it internal”) is the keystone of the strategy, and so should only be commenced when the institution is sure that it has first convinced the whistleblower that there is a Trusted Leader (TL) who will spearhead the fight for truth. In Step 4, the TL must convince the whistleblower that the surest and quickest way to correct the infractions identified by the whistleblower is by getting buy-in from the Top Brass. The Trusted Leader must convince the whistleblower that, to do this, the whistleblower must refrain from contacting any external bodies (e.g. regulators) until the TL has conducted an internal investigation first to gather the facts. If possible, the TL will bind the whistleblower to a promise not to take their concerns outside of the organization until “internal investigations” are completed. If such a promise is not forthcoming, the TL should verbally use other coercion such as suggesting it would avoid the whistleblower incurring legal expenses, accidentally breaching contract and being sued, getting a bad name throughout the industry etc. (direct threats are best saved until a later stage, and should always be oral and without witnesses, and when the TL is sure no recordings are being made). The whistleblower should be orally informed that, during this internal investigation, they cannot contact their union or legal advisers, but the institution is advised never to commit this to paper as it is almost certainly unlawful. On behalf of the institution, the TL will promise the whistleblower month-long internal investigations, but protract these to a year or more to run out the clock on the allowable time window for the whistleblower to inform external bodies (e.g. OSHA, ACAS, regulators etc.). Those investigations can then be classed as legally privileged (Step 5: “Legally privilege”) so the whistleblower cannot access information on it. Under the shield of legal privilege, the internal investigations are initially headed by one member of the senior leadership (Step 6: “Senior investigator”) such as a Vice President (VP). The TL is often chosen for this role. For conciseness, we will refer to this person as VP, and the institution must choose them carefully to ensure they have enduring motivation to act against ruthlessly against the whistleblower, and keep faith with (and protect) the institution for years to come. Such motivation could be in the form of promised bonuses or promotion, but these can have only transient effect, and the most enduring option is to choose as chair of the investigations a senior leader who would be implicated by the whistleblower if the whistleblower knew the whole story, but whose involvement in the infraction is something the whistleblower is ignorant of.

The ‘VP’ character can then set the terms of reference of the investigations such that critical factors are ruled out-of-scope in the investigation (Step 7: “The scope and rules”). The institution can also powerfully intervene to ensure the rules by which issues are judged favor the institution (as when DuPont placed its own scientists to work with West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to revise the safe threshold of Perfluorooctanoic acid in drinking water to be 150 higher than it was previously [79]). The VP must also control witness lists to ensure the witnesses identified by the whistleblower are never questioned, whereas those who can be induced to shift blame onto the whistleblower are included, and their unproven opinions given the weight of concrete evidence (Step 8: “Control the Witness lists”). Steps 7 and 8 are designed enable the logical following of processes to shift the guilt from the institution and the whistleblower (as when Antoine Deltour, formerly of PricewaterhouseCoopers, was convicted of information theft after revealing the tax avoidance schemes Amazon and Dyson had struck with Luxembourg [80]). These two steps should be re-applied during Step 9.

Step 9 (“Launch multiple investigations”) occurs whilst the whistleblower waits, trusting the ‘VP’ to fairly chair that first investigation. In Step 9, during this year of internal investigation, the VP will set up multiple internal sub-investigations. If possible, the institution must not alert the whistleblower to the fact that these investigations are designed to blame the whistleblower for something, by verbally communicating to the whistleblower that they are ‘fact-finding’ investigations in which the whistleblower is only peripherally involved as a witness. Harry Templeton, who blew the whistle on Robert Maxwell’s pension-fund theft, was fired on trumped-up charges after the other trustees of Mirror Group voted against challenging Maxwell’s actions.[81] Each of these investigations should be led by investigators motivated to protect the institution (e.g. by the promise of promotion). For conciseness, call these the AVP (Associate Vice Presidents). Each AVP is informally told by the institution what the scope of their investigation will be (in a re-application of Step 7) and who will be on the witness list (a re-application of Step 8), with the aim of absolving the institution but bend the arc of the narrative to cast the whistleblower as a bad apple, or a disgruntled employee who is lying to damage the institution. Some institutions have also tried to use this to give the impression that the whistleblower is mentally unfit or in breach of contract, but whilst these can be useful rumors to spread, they are better left out of official findings as the first is difficult to rule in-scope and the second is difficult to prove. If necessary, those rumors can be spread to other potential employers through informal social contacts to prevent the whistleblower from finding alternative employment once the institution has cause financial distress in the whistleblower to force the whistleblower to sign a non-disclosure agreement (see step 13). The HR/counselling service provided by the institution to the whistleblower should work hard to win the whistleblower’s trust at this stage so that they can monitor how well these investigations dispirit the whistleblower, and isolate them from colleagues and family.

Step 10 (“Scratching backs”) relies heavily on Step 8. In Step 10, each AVP calls, as witnesses to their sub-investigation, the other AVPs, and vice versa. None call witnesses recommended by the whistleblower. All call the VP as a witness. In this way, the institution can state that all the witnesses in all the sub-investigations found no evidence to support the whistleblower’s claim, but leak (to the whistleblower’s colleagues) rumors that the witnesses found worrying failings by the whistleblower to do their job competently and honestly, to abide by their employment contract etc. These internal investigations delay the point at which the whistleblower takes his/her concerns to external bodies, often running out the clock entirely.

Institutions are often nervous of the evidence a whistleblower might have, but Step 11 (“Jiu-jitsu the evidence”) turns that evidence that vindicates the whistleblower into evidence that harms them. In Step 11, the institution uses the early internal investigations (by the AVPs) to test whether the whistleblower really takes time to collate evidence. If the whistleblower does not carefully collate the evidence, then the institution can use its own assertions (and hide the fact that what it presents as testimony is in fact hearsay or manufactured, controlling the witness list as it does, reapplying Step 8) to counter the assertions made by the whistleblower. If the whistleblower proves to be a diligent record-keeper and fastidious in finding documentary evidence, the institution is advised to use the early internal investigations (run by the AVPs) to fatigue the whistleblower by ruling against the whistleblower time after time despite the whistleblower’s documentary evidence proving their case, telling them they need to find more and more evidence. A sustained campaign like this for 1-3 years, on low-level internal AVP investigations, demanding the whistleblower find and present increasing volumes of evidence only for it all to be ignored by the institution, will ensure that the whistleblower has no fight left to search for evidence and present it in a sensible fashion by the time the more important VP investigation comes to a head, or reach the regulator. The goal is to induce PTSD in the whistleblower, and deplete them of the finances needed to continue the fight. Specifically, the institute can crush the spirit of the whistleblower so that they appear to colleagues and regulators etc. to be the disgruntled mentally-disturbed employee that the institution portrays them to be. This approach is often very effective at depleting the finances of the whistleblower, because their lawyers’ charges the whistleblower for large amounts of time reading through the masses of evidence the whistleblower has found, only to advise that there is too much to present to a judge. This shows the whistleblower that finding evidence against the institution harms the whistleblower, disincentivizing them from continuing the fight. After whistleblowing, auditor Charles Erhart suffered persecution by Axos Bank (formerly Bank of Internet), including widely-publicized defamatory statements about him, leading to termination of his job. As he attempted to clear his name, the bank attempted to swamp his counsel with thousands of pages of documents to which Erhart had to respond, slowing the progress to court and incurring vast legal bills for Erhart.[82]

Step 12 (“Delay, consolidate and jiu-jitsu the blame”) brings to a head these various threads. By using the AVP investigations in concert with the VP investigation, and covering as much of the process and findings with legal privilege so that the whistleblower cannot access the records of them, the institution can undermine and persecute the whistleblower by allowing rumors that multiple investigations involving the whistleblower had found them to be a fantasist, and disparage the whistleblower’s reputation, isolating them and making their work life untenable. The institution can invoke legal privilege for all these investigations, so that all these tactics can be conducted under legal privilege, denying the whistleblower the access to information needed to avail themselves of whistleblower protections, or successfully appeal these decisions because the bias behind them is hidden. This is why, despite the existence of such legal protections, whistleblowers are often successfully persecuted, undermined, isolated from colleagues who hear rumors spread by the institution, and have their reputation and credibility destroyed by institutions committed to protecting their corrupt or negligent leaders. There are few things more effective at crushing the ability of a whistleblower to fight on, and goading them into rages in front of their colleagues that feed that ‘mentally unstable’ narrative, than having the whistleblower taking their evidence to (and even sitting in front of) a panel, believing they will get a fair hearing at last, only to have all the evidence ignored and the panel rule against them against all logic, often leading to punishment of the whistleblower. Examples include:

  • when the Environmental Protection Agency used veterinarians specifically selected by Dupont to rule on pollution claims,[79]
  • when Terry Bryan took his observations of patient abuse to the Care Quality Commission,[83]
  • when Osita Mba compiled evidence of the UK tax office (HMRC) freeing Goldman Sachs from the obligation to pay significant taxes, only to be ignored by the National Audit Office and then find his own phone records and emails searched for evidence against him and lost his job,[84]
  • when Ray Dirks exposed massive Equity Funding crimes but ended up in front of the US Supreme Court on trumped-up insider trading charges,[85]
  • when Dr Chris Day’s consultant-path career trajectory was terminated when Health Education England used semantics to dismiss his safety concerns,[86]
  • when Howard Shaw, a former detective sergeant at the Metropolitan Police, was ignored by superiors when he reported a colleague had cheated by seeing interview questions in advance, and was then removed by said colleague when he joined those superiors in Shaw’s line management,[87]
  • when Cheryl Eckard lost her job as a Quality Assurance Manager at GlaxoSmithKline when she reported to them that she had found their contamination of public water sources and failure to ensure sterile environments for their products environmental factory in Puerto Rico. She expected GSK to welcome her detailed report on 8 months finding how corners were cut at the factory to increase profits, but she was subjected to isolation and humiliation, and then sacked. She felt she had no option but to report the problems to the FDA, who raided the factory and found vast amounts of substandard drugs that were intended for sale to the public and healthcare,[88]
  • when Twitter's Chief Security Officer (Peiter Zatko) refused Twitter's demands that he cover up security vulnerabilities and was consequently terminated for what Twitter alleged to be poor performance[89][90]
  • when Chris Smalls (an activist for workers' rights at Amazon) was terminated by Amazon who alleged he broke their COVID-19 protocols (even though he never entered the building during the demonstration Amazon cited)[91]
  • when Martin Woods, a former policeman who had been employed by Wachovia Bank to check for money laundering, reported laundering to his bosses, he was treated with disdain, suffered reprimands and told to cease blacking illegal transactions and cease asking questions. He was on the trail of $300-billion laundered for drug cartels by Wachovia Bank.[92] He also noticed that the cartels stopped using the accounts he was monitoring, and so inferred the Cartels had been tipped off to his activities, placing him in danger. Having failed to silence him with lighter-touch measures (such as saying he did not use precisely the correct manner to call in sick when he was admitted to hospital, and citing him for a disciplinary offence for answering the phone when police called about a corrupt policy)). The banks began disciplinary proceedings against him, scheduling a hearing for professional misconduct and rebuking him, claiming that Woods’s actions could expose the bank to "potential regulatory jeopardy" and even "large fines." Woods suffered illness and went for psychiatric counselling. Woods had no choice but to report his findings outside of the bank, to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, after which the US Justice Department charged Wachovia with the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act in US history. Woods lost his job, and found it difficult to get other employment, while everyone involved in the criminal activity in the bank, and those responsible for his persecution, were promoted within the bank or promoted to other banks.

Step 13 is “Ruin credibility, mental health and finances”. This step delivers the objective of conducting the preceding steps, which is to destroy the credibility, the financial security and mental health of the whistleblower such that the whistleblower no longer has the ability to expose wrongdoing. When faced with reports from a whistleblower, the Bournemouth University launched a counter-offensive, its pro vice-chancellor publishing a letter in Times Higher Education in 2010 that phrases the university's own internal opinions on the whistleblower. This went out to all UK Universities, and prevented the whistleblower from finding another job in academia.[75] Those involved in discrediting him received promotions.

If the whistleblower does seek legal support, the institution uses its greater financial reserves (and in-house legal team if it is large enough to have one) to simply delay all the legal processes so that the whistleblower faces financial ruin, can no longer afford legal support, and drops the complaint. This is made particularly effective if the whistleblower’s working environment, and the measures outlined above, cause the whistleblower to completely use up their paid sick leave: each month of delay adds a month’s legal expenses to the whistleblower, who is now running their household on little or no income, whilst the institution absorbs its own legal costs each month, particularly if it is large enough to have its own legal department. Costs for the whistleblower can be racked up by scheduling weekly meetings between the whistleblower’s lawyers, and the institution, only for the institution to send different junior staff from its legal department to each meeting, who then plead ignorance as they have not had time to read up on the issue or collect the information to answer the outstanding questions. The issue does not advance, but the whistleblower pays legal fees each time.

As one of the 'first-name-only' trainers for this program brutally explained, the whistleblower stands on a chair with four legs: (i) their marriage, family and friends; (ii) their personal financial resources; (iii) their community of peers and colleagues who used to trust their word and make frequent contact them; and (iv) their reputation for credibility, integrity and truthfulness. They explained that the object of the program is to' kick that chair away.' With the whistleblower mentally and financially distressed, the institution can then offer to cease the investigations it has opened to tarnish and harass the whistleblower, in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement, which prevents the whistleblower from ever discussing the malfeasance of the institution or the harassment it has visited on the whistleblower.

The Universities of Southampton and Manchester were found to be within the top 3 UK Univerities for binding whistleblowers to NDAs when paying out settlements, using legal measures to ensure they did not divulge what problems they had found at those universities.[93] However both Southampton university and Manchester University generated beneficial self-publicity and improved their league table rankings, by making a show of signing up to a UK nationwide pledge to stop the use of NDAs to suppress whistleblowing on sexual misconduct, bullying and other harassment.[94] However, this made little change to leadership practices. When the University of Southampton was directly asked in a Freedom-of-Information Request ‘’ ‘for the number of (ex-) employees of the University in the last 10 years who, at the end of their period of employment, signed any form of non-disclosure agreement at the request of the University’ ‘’,[95] the response by Southampton University[96] avoided giving the number requested (by using the semantic reasoning that if an NDA is a confidentiality agreement within a Settlement Agreement it is not an NDA, so the answer would be zero despite the independent audit finding they were within the top 3 UK Universities for using NDAs[93]). Retrospective semantic re-definitions represent a common tactic by institutions to give the whistleblower's written word a meaning it did not have, and so dodge a verdict that would be inconvenient to the institution. In 2022 Apple were eventually criticised for using the same route to dodge accountability, of including silencing claused in small severance packages and so avoiding NDAs, and were found to have 'straight out lied'.[97] NDAs have also been used against teachers terminated by public schools after raising concerns about institutionalised cheating and fradulent practices by the public schools to benefit pupils and the exam rsuccess rates the school could use to attract new clients.[98] In the above example, the University of Southampton signed the response[96] ‘Yours sincerely, foi’, omitting any name or traceability for the decision, meaning the questioner would not be able to trace who in the Legal Services team of the University of Southampton had produced the response, and meaning no leader at Southampton University could be blamed for the avoiding the question and creating obstacles to hide what they do. The answer by Southampton University[96] is a good example of a Step 13 response, in that:

  • frustrates the questioner,
  • puts the onus on the questioner to enter into protracted and expensive challenges at their own cost if they wished to object to Southampton University’s non-answer and try to get an answer to the question they asked,
  • demonstrates the limited use of legal protections for whistleblowers when faced with the inherent inequality that protects institutions (who have large salaried legal teams paid for indefinitely by the Government grants and endowments (in the case of UK Universities) or commercial income streams for which protection of brand is a worthwhile investment in the private sector),
  • demonstrates how little fear such funded institutions have of a whistblower's legal protections,
  • demonstrates that large institutions will commit to paper ludicrous (and on the face of it, indefensible) defences to hide the decisions of its leadership, if it thinks the whistleblower will have insufficient resources to argue against those, or publicize them.

The tactic by the University of Southampton in making the response[96] appears to have been successful, the University successfully avoiding answering the Freedom-of-Information Request, and the questioner being unable to penetrate their obscuration and obfuscation, despite having (in theory) a legal right to get the answer to their question.

So effective is this program that the whistleblower has few defenses, except:

  • to resist Step 1 and insist that they take their concerns to the appropriate external regulatory body from the outset. This must be done with great care to abide by the policies, procedures and contracts associated with their job and institution, because the institution can use any departure from this to attack the whistleblower.
  • obtain Legal support at the earliest stage, so that (knowing the Steps used in this program) the restrictions on scope and witness lists etc. can be challenged, and a glossary of definitions can be drawn up so that seemingly innocusou words that the institution insists on using cannot be restrospectively redined to use semanntics to escape accountability. However, obtaining legal advice from an early stage then leaves the whistleblower open to the financial penalties that come when the institution delays the case for months or years.

The steps in this program are unethical, and (depending on the jurisdiction) often illegal, but they have succeeded because the whistleblower and their support network are unaware of them, and because protections for whistleblowers do not specifically call out this 13-step program. Institutions that purchase and implement all or part of it, cannot be unaware that lives have been lost through the detriment visited on whistleblowers by their institutions.


Legal protection for whistleblowers varies from country to country and may depend on the country of the original activity, where and how secrets were revealed, and how they eventually became published or publicized. Over a dozen countries have now adopted comprehensive whistleblower protection laws that create mechanisms for reporting wrongdoing and provide legal protections. Over 50 countries have adopted more limited protections as part of their anti-corruption, freedom of information, or employment laws.[99]

For purposes of the English Wikipedia, this section emphasizes the English-speaking world and covers other regimes only insofar as they represent exceptionally greater or lesser protections.



There are laws in a number of states.[100] The former NSW Police Commissioner Tony Lauer summed up official government and police attitudes as: "Nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers, particularly in an organization like the police or the government."[101] The former Australian intelligence officer known as Witness K, who provided evidence of Australia's controversial spying operation against the government of East Timor in 2004, face the possibility of jail if convicted.[102]

Whistleblowers Australia is an association for those who have exposed corruption or any form of malpractice, especially if they were then hindered or abused.[103]



The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC)[104] provides a safe and confidential mechanism enabling public servants and the general public to disclose wrongdoings committed in the public sector. It also protects from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations. The office's goal is to enhance public confidence in Canada's federal public institutions and in the integrity of public servants.[105]

Mandated by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, PSIC is a permanent and independent agent of Parliament. The act, which came into force in 2007, applies to most of the federal public sector, approximately 400,000 public servants.[106] This includes government departments and agencies, parent Crown corporations, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other federal public sector bodies.

Not all disclosures lead to an investigation as the act sets out the jurisdiction of the commissioner and gives the option not to investigate under certain circumstances. On the other hand, if PSIC conducts an investigation and finds no wrongdoing was committed, the commissioner must report his findings to the discloser and to the organization's chief executive. Also, reports of founded wrongdoing are presented before the House of Commons and the Senate in accordance with the act.

The act also established the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal (PSDPT) to protect public servants by hearing reprisal complaints referred by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The tribunal can grant remedies in favour of complainants and order disciplinary action against persons who take reprisals.

European Union


The European Parliament approved a "Whistleblower Protection Directive" containing broad free speech protections for whistleblowers in both the public and the private sectors, including for journalists, in all member states of the European Union. The Directive prohibits direct or indirect retaliation against employees, current and former, in the public sector and the private sector. The Directive's protections apply to employees, to volunteers, and to those who assist them, including to civil society organizations and to journalists who report on their evidence. In October 2021, the EU Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, Equality and the Rule of Law emphasized that ministries, as legal entities in the public sector, are also explicitly required to establish internal reporting channels for their employees.[107] It provides equal rights for whistleblowers in the national security sector who challenge denial or removal of their security clearances. Also, whistleblowers are protected from criminal prosecution and corporate lawsuits for damages resulting from their whistleblowing and provided with psychological support for dealing with harassment stress.[108]

Good government observers have hailed the EU directive as setting "the global standard for best practice rights protecting freedom of speech where it counts the most—challenging abuses of power that betray the public trust," according to the U.S.-based Government Accountability Project. They have noted, however, that ambiguities remain in the directive regarding application in some areas, such as "duty speech", that is, when employees report the same information in the course of a job assignment, for example, to a supervisor, instead of whistleblowing as formal dissent. In fact, duty speech is how the overwhelming majority of whistleblowing information gets communicated and where the free flow of information is needed for an organization's proper functioning. However it is in response to such "duty speech" employee communication that the vast majority of retaliation against employees occurs. These observers have noted that the Directive must be understood as applying to protection against retaliation for such duty speech because without such an understanding the Directive will "miss the iceberg of what's needed".[108]



In France, several recent laws have established a protection regime for whistleblowers. Prior to 2016, there were several laws in force which created disparate legislation with sector-specific regimes. The 2016 law on transparency, fight against corruption and modernization of economic life (known as the "Sapin 2 Law") provides for the first time a single legal definition of whistleblowers in France. It defines him or her as "an individual who discloses or reports, in a disinterested manner and in good faith, a crime or an offence, a serious and manifest breach of an international commitment duly ratified or approved by France, a unilateral act of an international organization adopted on the basis of such a commitment, of the law or regulations, or a serious threat or harm to general interest, which he or she has become personally aware of."[109] It excludes certain professional secrets such as national defense secrecy, medical secrecy or the secrecy of relations between a lawyer and his client.

In 2022, two laws are passed to transpose the European Directive 2019/1937 of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law. One of them strengthens the role of the Défenseur des droits - the French ombudsman - tasked with advising and protecting whistleblowers. The second amends the Sapin 2 law to bring it into line with the directive and adds substantial guarantees not included in the directive among which:[110][111]

  • The definition of whistleblowing in force under the "Sapin 2 Law" – which includes whistleblowing not based on work - has been maintained.
  • The protection applies to any natural person who facilitates or assists whistleblowers – as required in the directive – but also to entities such as NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) or trade unions, which act as a facilitator. They are offered the same level of protection.
  • Military personnel will now be afforded the same level of protection as other civil servants, so long as they do not disclose information that may harm national security.
  • The law provides that whistleblowers may be granted financial assistance, when subjected to a suit, by making an application to a judge, who has the power to force the suing organization – the employer, for instance - to cover their legal fees and if their financial situation has deteriorated, their living expenses.
  • The law provides that whistleblowers shall not incur criminal liability in respect to the acquisition of, or access to, the information that is reported or publicly disclosed. They cannot be sentenced for any offenses committed in order to gather proof or information as long as they obtained it in a lawful manner.
  • The law strengthens existing sanctions against those who retaliate against whistleblowers: The criminal sanctions applicable to persons retaliating against whistleblowers can go up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of €45,000. The judges may impose €60,000 fines on companies taking a SLAPP action against a whistleblower.

The law allows any person to apply to the Défenseur des droits for an opinion on his or her status as a whistleblower. A response should be given within six months after receiving the application. The organic law provides that the Défenseur des droits will publish a report every two years on the overall functioning of whistleblower protection addressed to the French President of the Republic, the President of the National Assembly, and the President of the Senate.[112]



In Jamaica, the Protected Disclosures Act, 2011[113] received assent in March 2011. It creates a comprehensive system for the protection of whistleblowers in the public and private sectors. It is based on the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.



The Government of India had been considering adopting a whistleblower protection law for several years. In 2003, the Law Commission of India recommended the adoption of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Act, 2002.[114] In August 2010, the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 was introduced into the Lok Sabha, lower house of the Parliament of India.[115] The Bill was approved by the cabinet in June 2011. The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 was renamed the Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2011 by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.[116] The Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2011 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 28 December 2011.[117] and by the Rajyasabha on 21 February 2014. The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 has received the Presidential assent on 9 May 2014 and the same has been subsequently published in the official gazette of the Government of India on 9 May 2014 by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.



In 2023, the Iranian government made public whistleblowing punishable by law if a whistleblower reveals corruption to authorities that can't be proved.[118]



The government of Ireland committed to adopting a comprehensive whistleblower protection law in January 2012.[119] The Protected Disclosures Act (PDA) was passed in 2014. The law covers workers in the public and private sectors, and also includes contractors, trainees, agency staff, former employees and job seekers. A range of different types of misconduct may be reported under the law, which provides protections for workers from a range of employment actions as well as whistleblowers' identity.[120]



The Netherlands has measures in place to mitigate the risks of whistleblowing: The House for Whistleblowers (Huis voor klokkenluiders) offers advice and support to whistleblowers, and the Parliament passed a proposal in 2016 to establish this house for whistleblowers, to protect them from the severe negative consequences that they might endure (Kamerstuk, 2013).[121] Dutch media organizations also provide whistleblower support; on 9 September 2013,[122] a number of major Dutch media outlets supported the launch of Publeaks,[123] which provides a secure website for people to leak documents to the media. Publeaks is designed to protect whistleblowers. It operates on the GlobaLeaks software developed by the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights,[124] which supports whistleblower-oriented technologies internationally.[125]



The Swiss Council of States agreed on a draft amendment of the Swiss Code of Obligations in September 2014. The draft introduces articles 321abis to 321asepties, 328(3), 336(2)(d).[126] An amendment of article 362(1) adds articles 321abis to 321asepties to the list of provisions that may not be overruled by labour and bargaining agreements.
Article 321ater introduces an obligation on employees to report irregularities to their employer before reporting to an authority. An employee will, however, not breach his duty of good faith if he reports an irregularity to an authority and

  • a period set by the employer and no longer than 60 days has lapsed since the employee has reported the incident to his employer, and
  • the employer has not addressed the irregularity or it is obvious that the employer has insufficiently addressed the irregularity.

Article 321aquarter provides that an employee may exceptionally directly report to an authority. Exceptions apply in cases

  • where the employee is in a position to objectively demonstrate that a report to his employer will prove ineffective,
  • where the employee has to anticipate dismissal,
  • where the employee must assume that the competent authority will be hindered in investigating the irregularity, or
  • where there is a direct and serious hazard to life, to health, to safety, or to the environment.

The draft does not improve on protection against dismissal for employees who report irregularities to their employer.[127] The amendment does not provide for employees anonymously filing their observations of irregularities.

United Kingdom


Whistleblowing in the United Kingdom is protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). Amongst other things, under the Act protected disclosures are permitted even if a non-disclosure agreement has been signed between the employer and the former or current employee; a consultation on further restricting confidentiality clauses was held in 2019.[128]

The Freedom to Speak Up Review sets out 20 principles to bring about improvements to help whistleblowers in the NHS, including:

  • Culture of raising concerns – to make raising issues a part of normal routine business of a well-led NHS organization.
  • Culture free from bullying – freedom of staff to speak out relies on staff being able to work in a culture which is free from bullying.
  • Training – every member of staff should receive training in their trust's approach to raising concerns and in receiving and acting on them.
  • Support – all NHS trusts should ensure there is a dedicated person to whom concerns can be easily reported and without formality, a "speak up guardian".
  • Support to find alternative employment in the NHS – where a worker who has raised a concern cannot, as a result, continue their role, the NHS should help them seek an alternative job.

Monitor produced a whistleblowing policy in November 2015 that all NHS organizations in England are obliged to follow. It explicitly says that anyone bullying or acting against a whistleblower could be potentially liable to disciplinary action.[129] An observational and interviewed-based study of more than 80 Guardians found that a lack of resources, especially time, reduced their ability to respond to concerns, and to analyse and learn from data. Guardians struggled to develop their role, and create a more positive culture in which staff felt free to voice concerns. Guardians found their role stressful and received little psychological support and as a result many did not intend to stay in their role for long.[130][131]

United States


Whistleblowing tradition in what would soon become the United States had a start in 1773 with Benjamin Franklin leaking a few letters in the Hutchinson affair. The release of the communications from royal governor Thomas Hutchinson to Thomas Whately led to a firing, a duel and arguably, both through the many general impacts of the leak and its role in convincing Franklin to join the radicals' cause, the taking of another important final step toward the American Revolution.

The first act of the Continental Congress in favor of what later came to be called whistleblowing came in the 1777-8 case of Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven. The two seamen accused Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy Esek Hopkins of torturing British prisoners of war. The Congress dismissed Hopkins and then agreed to cover the defense cost of the pair after Hopkins filed a libel suit against them under which they were imprisoned. Shaw and Marven were subsequently cleared in a jury trial.

To be considered a whistleblower in the United States, most federal whistleblower statutes require that federal employees have reason to believe their employer violated some law, rule, or regulation; testify in or commence a legal proceeding on the legally protected matter; or refuse to violate the law.

In cases where whistleblowing on a specified topic is protected by statute, U.S. courts have generally held that such whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.[132] However, a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) held that the First Amendment free speech guarantees for government employees do not protect disclosures made within the scope of the employees' duties.

In the United States, legal protections vary according to the subject matter of the whistleblowing and sometimes the state where the case arises.[133] In passing the 2002 Sarbanes–Oxley Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee found that whistleblower protections were dependent on the "patchwork and vagaries" of varying state statutes.[134] Still, a wide variety of federal and state laws protect employees who call attention to violations, help with enforcement proceedings, or refuse to obey unlawful directions. While this patchwork approach has often been criticized, it is also responsible for the United States having more dedicated whistleblowing laws than any other country.[135]

The first US law adopted specifically to protect whistleblowers was the 1863 United States False Claims Act (revised in 1986), which tried to combat fraud by suppliers of the United States government during the American Civil War. The act encourages whistleblowers by promising them a percentage of the money recovered by the government and by protecting them from employment retaliation.[136]

Another US law specifically protecting whistleblowers is the Lloyd–La Follette Act of 1912. It guaranteed the right of federal employees to furnish information to the United States Congress. The first US environmental law to include an employee protection was the Clean Water Act of 1972. Similar protections are included in subsequent federal environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (through 1978 amendment to protect nuclear whistleblowers), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or the Superfund Law) (1980), and Clean Air Act (1990). Similar employee protections enforced through OSHA are included in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (1982) to protect truck drivers, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) of 2002, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21), and the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, enacted on July 30, 2002 (for corporate fraud whistleblowers). More recent laws with some whistleblower protection include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), Seamans Protection Act as amended by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (SPA), Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA), FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), and Taxpayer First Act (TFA).

Investigation of retaliation against whistleblowers under 23 federal statutes falls under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Program (DWPP)[137] of the United States Department of Labor's[138] Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).[139] New whistleblower statutes enacted by Congress, which are to be enforced by the Secretary of Labor, are generally delegated by a Secretary's Order[140] to the DWPP.

The patchwork of laws means that victims of retaliation need to be aware of the laws at issue to determine the deadlines and means for making proper complaints. Some deadlines are as short as 10 days (Arizona State Employees have 10 days to file a "Prohibited Personnel Practice" Complaint before the Arizona State Personnel Board), while others are up to 300 days.

Those who report a false claim against the federal government, and suffer adverse employment actions as a result, may have up to six years (depending on state law) to file a civil suit for remedies under the US False Claims Act (FCA).[141] Under a qui tam provision, the "original source" for the report may be entitled to a percentage of what the government recovers from the offenders. However, the "original source" must also be the first to file a federal civil complaint for recovery of the federal funds fraudulently obtained, and must avoid publicizing the claim of fraud until the US Justice Department decides whether to prosecute the claim itself. Such qui tam lawsuits must be filed under seal, using special procedures to keep the claim from becoming public until the federal government makes its decision on direct prosecution. Whistleblowers acting under the FCA are the primary enforcement tool used by the U.S. Department of Justice to target fraud, including overbilling to government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare.[142]

American whistleblower Edward Snowden

The Espionage Act of 1917 has been used to prosecute whistleblowers in the United States including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. In 2013, Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks.[143] The same year, Snowden was charged with violating the Espionage Act for releasing confidential documents belonging to the NSA.[144]

Section 922 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) in the United States incentivizes and protects whistleblowers.[145] By Dodd-Frank, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) financially rewards whistleblowers for providing original information about violations of federal securities laws that results in sanctions of at least $1M.[146][147] Additionally, Dodd-Frank offers job security to whistleblowers by illegalizing termination or discrimination due to whistleblowing.[146][148][149] The whistleblower provision has proven successful; after the enactment of Dodd-Frank, the SEC charged KBR (company) and BlueLinx Holdings Inc. (company) with violating the whistleblower protection Rule 21F-17 by having employees sign confidentiality agreements that threatened repercussions for discussing internal matters with outside parties.[150][151] Former President Donald Trump announced plans to dismantle Dodd-Frank in 2016.[152] He created the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection as a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which reportedly instead punished whistleblowers.[153]

The US Department of Labor's Whistleblower Protection Program can handle many types of retaliation claims based on legal actions an employee took or was perceived to take in the course of their employment.[154] Moreover, in the United States, if the retaliation occurred due to the perception of who the employee is as a person, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may be able to accept a complaint of retaliation.[155] In an effort to overcome those fears, in 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was put forth to provide great incentive to whistleblowers. For example, if a whistleblower gave information that could be used to legally recover over one million dollars, then they could receive ten to thirty percent of it.

Whistleblowers have risen within the technology industry as it has expanded in recent years. Protection for these specific whistleblowers falls short; they often end up unemployed or in jail. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act offers an incentive for private sector whistleblowers but only if they go to the SEC with information.[156] If a whistleblower acts internally, as they often do in the technology industry, they are not protected by the law. Scandals such as the Dragonfly search engine scandal and the Pompliano lawsuit against Snapchat have drawn attention to whistleblowers in technology.

The federally recognized National Whistleblower Appreciation Day is observed annually on July 30, on the anniversary of the country's original 1778 whistleblower protection law.

Other countries


In New Zealand, workers are protected by the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Act 2022, which went into effect on 1 July 2022. It replaces the Protected Disclosures Act 2000.[157][158][159][160]

South Africa adopted comprehensive legal protections for whistleblowers with the Protected Disclosures Act of 2000 (PDA). The PDA was further strengthened by the passage of an Amendment Act in 2017.[161][162]

A number of other countries have adopted comprehensive whistleblower laws, including Ghana's Whistleblowers Act (Act 720), 2006.[163][164] South Korea,[165][166] Uganda,[167][168] Kenya,[169] and Rwanda[170][171][172] also have Whistleblower laws. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2008 that whistleblowing was protected as freedom of expression.[173]

Nigeria set up a whistleblowing policy against corruption and other ills.[174] Nigeria formulated a Whistleblowing Policy in 2016, but this has not yet been established as law. A new draft bill for Whistle-blower Protection was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as of December 2022.[175] The new draft whistleblower protection bill was presented to the National Assembly for consideration by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2023. Buhari's term as President ends as of May 29, 2023.[176]

Advocacy for protection


Many NGOs advocate for stronger and more comprehensive legal rights and protections for whistleblowers. Among them are the Government Accountability Project (GAP), Blueprint for Free Speech,[177] Public Concern at Work (PCaW), the Open Democracy Advice Centre[178] or in France, the Maison des Lanceurs d'Alerte (MLA).[179][180] An international network - the Whistleblowing International Network (WIN) - aimed at gathering these NGOs.[181]

Frank Serpico, an NYPD whistleblower, prefers to use the term "lamp-lighter" to describe the whistleblower's role as a watchman.[182] The Lamplighter Project, which aims to encourage law enforcement officers to report corruption and abuse of power and helps them do so, is named based on Serpico's usage of the term.[183]

Methods used


Whistleblowers who may be at risk from those they are exposing are now using encryption methods and anonymous content-sharing software to protect their identity. Tor, a highly accessible anonymity network, is frequently used by whistleblowers around the world.[184] Tor has undergone a number of large security updates to protect the identities of potential whistleblowers who may wish to leak information anonymously.[185]

Recently[when?] specialized whistleblowing software like SecureDrop and GlobaLeaks has been built on top of the Tor technology to incentivize and simplify its adoption for secure whistleblowing.[186][187]

Whistleblowing hotline


In business, whistleblowing hotlines are usually deployed to mitigate risk, with the intention of providing secure, anonymous reporting for employees or third-party suppliers who may otherwise be fearful of reprisals from their employer. As such, implementing a corporate whistleblowing hotline is often seen as a step toward compliance and can also highlight an organization's stance on ethics.[188] It is widely agreed that implementing a dedicated service for whistleblowers has a positive effect on organizational culture.[189]

A whistleblowing hotline is sometimes also referred to as an ethics hotline or "Speak Up" hotline and is often facilitated by an outsourced service provider to encourage potential disclosers to come forward.[citation needed]

In 2018, the Harvard Business Review published findings to support the idea that whistleblowing hotlines are crucial to keeping companies healthy, stating, "More whistles blown are a sign of health, not illness."[190]


One of the subplots for season 6 of the popular American TV show The Office focuses on Andy Bernard, a salesman, discovering that his company's printers catch on fire, his struggling with how to deal with the news, and the company's response to the whistleblower going public.

The 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection involves Picard and the NCC-1701-E Enterprise crew risking their Starfleet careers to blow the whistle on a Federation conspiracy with the Son'a to forcibly relocate the Ba'ku from their planet.

In 2014, the rock/industrial band Laibach released a song titled "The Whistleblowers" on their eighth studio album, Spectre. It was released on 3 March 2014 under Mute Records.

In 2016, the rock band Thrice released a song titled "Whistleblower" on the album To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere. The song is written from the perspective of Snowden.[191]

In July 2018, CBS debuted a reality television show titled Whistleblower, hosted by lawyer, former judge, and police officer Alex Ferrer, that covers qui tam suits under the False Claims Act against companies that have allegedly defrauded the federal government.[192]

See also


Notes and references

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