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Inadequate protections for whistleblowers in U.S. impact on free expression, access to information

Edward Snowden delivers remarks via video link from Moscow to attendees at a discussion on privacy, surveillance and protection of whistleblowers in Manhattan, New York, 24 September 2015
Edward Snowden delivers remarks via video link from Moscow to attendees at a discussion on privacy, surveillance and protection of whistleblowers in Manhattan, New York, 24 September 2015

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

This statement was originally published on pen.org on 9 November 2015.

Drawing on interviews with leakers, lawyers, scholars, journalists, and government representatives, Secret Sources: Whistleblowers, National Security, and Free Expression reveals massive holes in the laws and regulations covering whistleblowing by intelligence workers, particularly when raising valid constitutional or ethical issues about a government action that has been previously authorized by an agency head or Congress as legal. PEN's report demonstrates how these gaps in the existing scheme of protections pose high risks for national security workers wishing to expose alleged wrongdoing, undercut the ability of journalists to report on information in the public interest and to protect sources, and largely exclude the national security sphere from the crucial check on abuses that whistleblowers provide in other areas of the U.S. government.

READ THE FULL REPORT

Key Recommendations:

1) Ensure strong, clear protections for government whistleblowers that apply across agencies and to all categories of workers, including contractors;

2) Reform the impenetrable Espionage Act to allow defendants to raise a public interest defense in cases of disclosure to the public, and limit prosecutions under the Act to offenders intending to harm U.S. national defense;

3) Implement protections against employment retaliation and criminal prosecution of whistleblowers, including access to courts for recourse.

On 10 November, a discussion of the report's findings and opportunities for reform was held with whistleblower Thomas Drake, attorney Jesselyn Radack, The New York Times reporter James Risen, and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Download the PEN report.
secretsources_low-res.pdf (1547 KB)

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