Whistleblowers and the Law

Whistleblowers have been mentioned frequently in the news lately due to the conversation surrounding President Trump and his impeachment. Despite how frequently the term is mentioned, many people are unsure what a whistleblower is and what protections a whistleblower receives under the law. 

If you find yourself among those who are a bit confused, keep reading. You’ll learn more about what a whistleblower is, whistleblowers in history, and how whistleblowing carries out under the law. 

What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is an individual who reports illicit activity conducted by an individual or, as is most common, a powerful corporation or entity. The reported activity is usually illegal, but it doesn’t have to be and can also be unethical or incorrect within a private or public organization. 

The reporting can be done either internally or externally. Internally, the whistleblower reports the alleged misconduct to someone who is their superior, usually an immediate supervisor. However, a whistleblower can also take the external route, exposing the misconduct to an outside party, such as the media, the government, or law enforcement. The external reporting is usually what ends up getting huge amounts of attention.

Whistleblowers in History

Whistleblowing is not a new phenomenon. Several whistleblowers throughout history have brought misconduct by powerful companies and entities to light. One of the most famous whistleblowers in recent years is Edward Snowden, who exposed the practices of the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden was formerly an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He exposed several global surveillance programs put on by the NSA and was hit with several lawsuits from the United States government. Currently, Snowden lives in Russia.

Sometimes whistleblowers aren’t known until years after the information they revealed came to light. Such is the case with former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Officer Mark Felt, better known as “Deep Throat” — the anonymous source who tipped off the Watergate scandal to reporters at The Washington Post. Felt revealed his identity as “Deep Throat” in 2005, 33 years after the Watergate scandal. 

Other notable whistleblowers include Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers), Chelsea Manning (WikiLeaks), and Linda Tripp (the Lewinsky Scandal).

Whistleblowing Under the Law

As you may have assumed, whistleblowing creates a lot of tension between the idea of keeping private information private and exposing immoral and most of the time, illegal, behavior. However, there are many protections for whistleblowers — both on the federal level and the state level. 

Federally, the False Claims Act makes it a crime for a business or an individual to commit fraud against government programs. If a whistleblower were to expose fraud against a government company within their business, they would be protected under that federal law. 

Likewise, many states have created protections for whistleblowers. Many states stipulate situations that are covered under whistleblower law, including Ponzi schemes, tax evasion, unlawful billing and more. The best thing you can do is reach out to a whistleblower attorney in your state to learn more. 

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