A whistleblower is someone who discloses knowledge regarding action inside a private or public institution that is thought to be unlawful, immoral, criminal, dangerous, or fraudulent. They are frequently employees. Being a "insider" of the company where the wrongdoing they denounce is occurring is common, although it is not necessary. Anyone may be regarded as a whistleblower so long as their information regarding wrongdoing would not otherwise be known. 

Important Lessons: Whistleblower

•    Whistleblowers are those who expose misconduct that takes place in private or public institutions and is improper, immoral, criminal, unsafe, or fraudulent.
•    The government, corporation stockholders, and taxpayers may all suffer as a result of the crimes that whistleblowers make public.
•    Whistleblowers are frequently driven by their sense of integrity and a sincere desire to defend the public, even when they are aware that they could receive financial compensation.
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•    Whistleblowers are either viewed as self-serving "traitors" or as heroes for the public good and corporate accountability.
•    Whistleblowers frequently face attacks, are demoted, fired, threatened, or, in the worst cases, are physically assaulted, despite the fact that state and federal laws are in place to protect them. 


The U.S. Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 defines whistleblowing as the disclosure of information by a current or former employee "which the employee reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety."
Whistleblowers are, to put it simply, informants. Some are problematic, while others are hailed as heroes. Whistleblowers from all across the world report crimes every year, including espionage, pollution, and tax fraud. These crimes can have a major financial impact on the government, company shareholders, and taxpayers. 
They are frequently very challenging for law enforcement to find on their own. They would go unnoticed if whistleblowers didn't report them. Whistleblowers, for instance, were responsible for revealing the Vietnam War's failings and the Watergate cover-up, as well as the huge accounting fraud that brought down Enron and WorldCom in the early 2000s and the risks posed by nicotine in cigarette products.
Whistleblowers have a tremendous impact that cannot be overstated. They are essential to the functioning of the public, the economy, and the government. 

Background And History

The act of informing the public of an emergency or a crime in progress has long been associated with the word "whistleblower" or "whistle blower." Because police officers employed a whistle to warn the public or other officers of crimes in progress or other possible threats, the term "whistle blower" came to be associated with the enforcement of laws in the 19th century. For instance, a police officer who used a whistle to alert residents to a riot in progress in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1883 was referred to as a "whistle blower" in the Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette article.
In order to avoid the negative connotations associated with other words like "informant" and "snitch," journalists started using the single word whistleblower in the 1960s to refer to people who exposed wrongdoing, such as American civic activist Ralph Nader. When Nader's book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ was released in 1965, it quickly came to the attention of American news outlets. The well praised investigative report attacked the politically significant auto industry by asserting that many American cars were inherently dangerous to drive. 
To substantiate his claims, Nader reviewed case data from more than 100 cases that were then ongoing against the well-known compact Chevrolet Corvair from General Motors. Unsafe at Any Speed serves as an early illustration of the risks whistleblowers may encounter. Despite being a runaway bestseller, Nader faced vicious retaliation from General Motors, which tapped his phone to look for lewd information and later hired prostitutes to try to catch him in an inappropriate situation. 
Nader informed US Senator Abe Ribicoff of his suspicions that he was being followed while serving as the senator's unpaid consultant at the time. At a special congressional session called by Senator Ribicoff, General Motors CEO James Roche admitted under oath that the company had hired a private investigation team to look into Nader. Nader sued General Motors for privacy invasion and was awarded a $425,000 compensation. 
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was unanimously passed by Congress in 1966, one year after Unsafe at Any Speed came out, and it required automakers to implement safety regulations to shield the general public from an irrational risk of accidents arising from the design, manufacture, or operation of automobiles. According to John William McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ralph Nader's "crusading spirit of one guy who believed he could do something" was responsible for the Act's passing. 


Numerous studies, including interviews with real whistleblowers, demonstrate that these individuals are frequently driven by their sense of integrity and a sincere desire to defend the public. Even though some whistleblowers may be eligible for substantial financial rewards under federal legislation, few of them are aware of or motivated by these rewards at the time they speak up. The majority of whistleblowers voice concerns about illegal and harmful workplace activities because they are unwilling to engage in behavior they perceive to be improper, despite the fact that doing so could affect their careers. 
Whistleblowers can still be driven by a strong dedication to the public good even if they are aware of award schemes. For instance, a whistleblower who was eligible to receive a $600,000 payment in 2015 for informing the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) of wrongdoing made the decision to forego his award in protest at the fact that executives who committed misconduct were never held personally accountable. Although the whistleblower acknowledged that some of his initial motivation to act came from knowing he would be eligible for a sizable prize, he eventually came to believe that it was more crucial to hold the responsible executives accountable than to get his money back. 
Some whistleblowers are influenced by their personal codes of ethics, while many are driven by a strong desire for the truth. Whistleblowers in similar situations have been accused of having an "axe to grind" against the company. This was the case with Sherron Watkins, who in 2001 exposed egregious malfeasance at the Texas-based energy corporation Enron. Watkins' choice to come forward, according to Jessica Uhl, a former aide of Watkins, was influenced by her gender. There aren't many female faces on the management team, and there never have been, said Uhl. There is a boundary that separates Sherron from outsiders because she is a vice president, however It can be a little simpler to take a large risk if you're not a member of the "guys' club."
Whistleblowers may be driven by societal and organizational factors in addition to ethical considerations. According to a 2012 study, people are more inclined to come forward when others are aware of the crime because they are afraid of the repercussions of keeping quiet. Whistleblowers are more likely to submit a formal report when there is just one person accountable for the infraction since confronting the offender would be more emotionally and psychologically taxing. Professionals in managerial positions sometimes feel obligated to speak up for the advancement of their firms. 

Private Sector Whistleblowing

In the corporate private sector, the most typical instance of whistleblowing is when an employee informs a superior, such as their manager or supervisor, or an outside agency, such as their attorney or the police. Whistleblowing in the public sector is perhaps more restricted in today's culture, although being more widespread. Whistleblowing in the private sector is typically not high-profile or extensively covered by major news outlets, with the exception of cases where the wrongdoing exposed involves violations of human rights, the exploitation of workers, or harm to the general public. 

Frances Haugen

Frenchie Haugen For instance, an American data engineer and former product manager at Facebook, revealed tens of thousands of private documents from the social media network to the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal in September 2021. Haugen had assumed the role of product manager for Facebook's "civic integrity department" in 2019. Haugen made the decision to come forward as a whistleblower when Facebook disbanded its civic integrity team following the 2020 presidential election due to what she described as a pattern of Facebook "prioritizing profit over public safety." 
The records and reports Haugen made public exposed Facebook's shortcomings in dealing with human trafficking, drug cartels, bullying, hate speech, and vaccination disinformation as well as exemptions from its community standards for prominent users. “Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside of Facebook," Haugen said in an interview with ‘The Wall Street Journal’,
"The corporation actively hides crucial information from the public, from the U.S. government, and governments throughout the world. The records I've given Congress show that Facebook has consistently misled the public about what its own research shows regarding children's safety, the effectiveness of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in disseminating extremist and divisive ideas. I spoke up because I firmly think that every person is deserving of the respect of the truth.
Whistleblowers in the private sector are protected in the United States by institutions like the United States Department of Labor. Employees must still consider their alternatives, though. Either they expose the corporation and take the moral high ground, or they expose the company and risk losing their jobs, their reputations, and perhaps even their ability to find new employment. 

Governmental Sector Whistleblowing

Since the 1970s, the value of whistleblowing has increased in the public sector. Government whistleblowers are protected from retaliation by state and federal legislation. Whistleblowers in the public sector are shielded from reprisal by their First Amendment rights, the US Supreme Court has concluded. Following several high-profile cases involving federal whistleblowers, these laws were finally introduced to protect government informants.

"Deep Throat" 

FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt, writing for The Washington Post, revealed details about President Richard Nixon's involvement in the 1972 Watergate break-in. Nixon was the only American president to resign while in office as a result of the scandal, which led to his resignation in 1974. When J. Edgar Hoover passed away in 1972, Felt, who had joined the FBI in 1942, was unexpectedly passed over for the position of FBI Director. By 1971, Felt was virtually in command of the bureau's day-to-day operations. 
Shortly after, he started working covertly with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on his inquiry into the abuses of presidential power resulting from the break-in at the Watergate complex during the 1972 U.S. presidential election campaign. His inside knowledge was said to have been crucial in linking the Nixon White House to misconduct. 

Ellsberg Daniel

The "Pentagon Papers" started to leak to The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1971, according to military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. Prior to the Vietnam War, the records indicated the U.S.'s expanding political and military presence in that country. The Pentagon Papers, according to a 1996 New York Times story, exposed the Lyndon B. Johnson administration's "systematic lying, not just to the public but even to Congress" over the U.S. government's role in launching the war. 
The Pentagon Papers exposed the covert expansion of American involvement in the Vietnam War through coastal attacks on North Vietnam, which were not covered by the mainstream media. A federal district judge declared a mistrial after charging Ellsberg with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property, but the charges were later dropped.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, leaked classified documents in 2013 that showed how the federal government's extensive global electronic surveillance activities involve gathering data on everyday people. Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor, hired Snowden, who claimed he gradually lost interest in the programs he was working on but was disregarded when he tried to voice his ethical concerns through internal channels. After being accused of espionage, Snowden left the US and was given temporary shelter in Russia.
A U.S. federal judge found on September 2, 2020, that the massive surveillance programme used by the U.S. Intelligence Community and revealed by Snowden was illegal and possibly unconstitutional.

Ukraine-Trump Scandal

Unidentified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) personnel submitted a whistleblower report to the Inspector General of the U.S. Intelligence Community on August 12, 2019. The allegation, according to a report published on September 18 by The Washington Post, was a pledge made by American President Donald Trump to an unnamed foreign leader. A political scandal in the United States was brought on by efforts made by U.S. President Donald Trump to force Ukraine and other nations to spread false information about 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden as well as false information about Russian meddling in the American elections in 2016.
Trump allegedly stopped payment of a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine that was mandated by Congress in order to secure Volodymyr Zelensky's cooperation in a recorded phone discussion between the two men on July 25, 2019. Trump disbursed the cash after learning of a whistleblower report concerning his actions in relation to Ukraine, but before Congress or the general public were made aware of the complaint.
The president was removed from office on December 18, 2019, as a result of the alleged Trump-Ukraine Scandal. Trump was cleared of the charges brought against him by the House of Representatives by the U.S. Senate on February 5, 2020.
These are just a few notable instances of the kind of impact government whistleblowers can have. One of the best ways to identify and stop fraud, corruption, and other wrongdoing is by whistleblowing. By revealing malfeasance and fraud, whistleblowers have helped the government save millions of dollars.


Whistleblowers are viewed as either heroic martyrs for organizational accountability or the public good, as "traitors," or as avaricious narcissists in search of fame and fortune. For instance, supporters of President Trump immediately accused the CIA leaker in the Trump-Ukraine Scandal of treason. Even whistleblowers who have stopped billion-dollar frauds or saved lives frequently face attacks, demotions to pointless positions, criminal investigations, and termination. Even worse, they can face threats, assaults, or even death. Whistleblowing may be associated with betrayal in some social contexts rather than being viewed as advantageous to the public. 

Rights And Defenses

On July 30, the anniversary of the passing of the nation's first whistleblower protection statute in 1778, National Whistleblower Appreciation Day is honored in the United States. The legislation was established in the Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven case. These two American sailors had accused Esek Hopkins, Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, of torturing British POWs. After Hopkins brought a libel suit against the couple, which resulted in their imprisonment, Congress dismissed Hopkins' claims and agreed to pay for their legal defense.
Following a jury trial, Shaw and Marven were declared not guilty. Federal employees must have cause to think that their employer broke a law, rule, or regulation in order to be protected under the majority of U.S. federal whistleblower statutes. U.S. courts have typically ruled that such whistleblowers are protected from retribution in situations where exposing wrongdoing on a particular subject is protected by law. However, in 2006, a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public officials whose disclosures were made as part of their official duties are protected by the First Amendment's free speech guarantees. 
Legal protections for whistleblowers in the United States differ depending on the issue at hand and occasionally the state where the case is brought up. For instance, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed by Congress in 2002 with the goal of defending the public, employees, and shareholders from financial crime and accounting mistakes. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved the Act, discovered that whistleblower protections were subject to the "patchwork and oddities" of various state statutes. 
However, numerous federal and state regulations shield workers who draw attention to infractions, provide testimony during enforcement procedures, or decline to follow improper instructions from their superiors.

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