The EU must take action to protect whistleblowers

By EDRi · May 31, 2017

The right of citizens to report wrongdoing is a natural extension of the right of freedom of expression, and is linked to the principles of transparency and integrity.

– Transparency International

Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are some of the most famous whistleblowers, thanks to their huge impact on the protection of human rights. However, there are many other whistleblowers who do not enjoy the same media attention and support. These modern heroes face many challenges, only for having done their civic duty.

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In the European Union (EU) there is a chance to see whistleblower protections embedded into law. In order to assess the views of different stakeholders, the European Commission launched a public consultation, which closed on 29 May. Parts of the consultation were badly drafted, and the range of questions was unnecessarily wide to serve the goals of the consultation.

EDRi replied to the consultation asking for adequate protections, currently still missing in the EU. Among the reasons why a potential whistleblower does not blow the whistle, we highlighted the following:

  1. The uncertainty of the law. Whistleblowers need to know in advance which rights and protections they can benefit from. Clear protections are needed in law, in order for whistleblowers to be protected, when bringing problems to light.
  2. The burden of proof. The company or the public body to which the disclosures relate should bear the burden of proving the harm if they seek to assert that disclosures are not in the public interest, not the whistleblowers themselves.
  3. Insecurity and lack of anonymity precautions. If a whistleblower does not want to disclose her or his identity, anonymity should be preserved. Currently, many initiatives do not take into account technical precautions to allow this. When whistleblower channels are provided, appropriate technical means should be required to make them secure and private, thereby ensuring anonymity.
  4. Fear of a trial, including legal costs and criminal charges. The threat of legal consequences needs to be avoided. It is of utmost importance that whistleblowers are exempted from criminal, civil and administrative liability.
  5. Fear of retaliation. Whistleblowers can face personal threats and harm. Adequate support and protective mechanisms should be put in place to ensure their safety and well-being.
  6. Other costs. Adequate measures should be in place to deal with situations where whistleblowers lose their job or suffer financially or psychologically.

The EU needs to take action and propose legislative and practical solutions for whistleblowers. This is crucial for fostering transparent decision-making and governance, and our democratic society.

Public Consultation on Whistleblower Protection (03.03. 2017)

EDRi’s response to the Public Consultation on Whistleblower Protection (29.05.2017)

International principles for whistleblower legislation (05.11.2013)

Protecting whistleblowers – protecting democracy (25.01.2017)

(Contribution by Vincenzo Tiani, EDRi intern)