Posts Tagged ‘leaks’

It seems that corporate and government secrets are being leaked with more frequency in recent history than ever before. Today, it was revealed that Edward Snowden, a former Booz Allen Hamilton employee, was the source of the leak concerning the NSA’s broad and, some would say, overreaching surveillance program. He is currently residing in Hong Kong in an attempt to escape prosecution by the Justice Department. The uptick in leaks such as these may be due in part to easier access to distribution channels via the Internet and a growing public demand for transparency and accountability in government agencies and companies alike.

While the reasons behind such leaks and whistleblowing efforts are often tied to an individual’s personal ethics, it is much harder to understand the conflict involved in the decision to leak information to the public. That decision often has serious and far-flung consequences for the whistleblower and his or her family. For example, Army private Bradley Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to website WikiLeaks, was arrested and jailed in May of 2010 and is currently in the process of being court-martialed. Edward Snowden could face extradition and be brought back to the U.S. for trial.

On the corporate front, whisteblowers such as Mark Whitacre (Archer Daniels Midland, 1992), and Jeffrey Wigand (Brown & Williamson, 1996) face financial and violent threats, the fear of being blacklisted, and, in some cases, prison time. Karen Silkwood, who uncovered health and safety issues surrounding the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma, was killed in a suspicious car accident on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter about what she had uncovered. Because they face such potentially devastating consequences, corporate whistleblowers must carefully consider their decision to release sensitive information, weighing their moral and ethical obligations against their own personal wellbeing.

In their book, The Corporate Whistleblower’s Survival Guide, Tom Devine and Tarek F. Maassarani provide advice for employees considering whistleblowing and how they should handle themselves:

  • Before an employee challenges a company, that employee must understand how large organizations operate and how corporate bureaucracies react to troublemakers.
  • A prospective corporate whistleblower must be certain of what the objective is. Objectives may include being a good citizen, the desire to protect the public from a dangerous hazard, or compensation for damages.
  • When hiring an attorney, the attorney’s motivation for taking the case should be aligned with the whistleblower’s ultimate objective, be it protecting the public from a hazard or winning compensatory damages.
  • It is essential to examine and research the best channels for disclosure of information. Channels may include corporate management, hotlines, advocacy groups, public government agencies, law enforcement, government representatives, or the media.
  • Successful whistleblowing hinges more on relationships than on formal legal rights or resources. Relationships are as significant as the quality of the evidence and the efficacy of the strategy.
  • Advocacy organizations can be vital partners for whistleblowers, since these organizations can provide advice, research, and connections.

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