Watch Out, Whistleblowers: Congress and Courts Move to Curtail Leaks
House Republicans introduced legislation yesterday targeting the already-delayed whistleblower rule in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The proposed change would require corporate whistleblowers to report problems internally before going to financial regulators. The move, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is just the latest in a series of setbacks for those who favor strengthening whistleblower rules to encourage reporting of wrongdoing within government and businesses.
Whistleblowers were dealt another blow last week when a federal court of appeals ruled that corporate whistleblower protections don’t cover leaks to the media. According to the Los Angeles Times, the panel of judges ruled that individuals blowing the whistle on publicly traded companies are protected from retaliation only when they report the wrongdoing to financial regulators—which could discourage future leaks to the media.
Whistleblower groups are also protesting a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Bill that would allow intelligence officials to penalize employees and former employees for disclosure of classified information without needing a conviction to do so. The Government Accountability Project has said that under the proposed law, intelligence officials need only reach a "determination" that a knowing violation occurred.
The Obama administration has also been cracking down on major breaches of classified government information and is working to build a case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. NPR reports that the effort is part of a broader campaign by the Obama administration to curtail leaks:
National security experts say they can't remember a time when the Justice Department has pursued so many criminal cases based on leaks of government secrets. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has been following five separate prosecutions, part of what he calls a tremendous surge by the Obama administration.
And according to a rather ironic report this week by the U.K.’s New Statesman, Assange himself has been trying to prevent leaks within WikiLeaks by making his own associates sign confidentiality agreements and imposing a nearly $20 million penalty for anyone who leaks the organization’s leaked material. If it works, this type of agreement could delay the disclosure of some of the confidential documents that have proved useful in reporting on the Middle East revolutions and other international affairs. WikiLeaks, after all, has been known to tout material in its possession while sitting on its release.