Can you blow my whistle, baby? No, but seriously, what does it take to be a whistleblower in an organization? Confidence? Morality? No regard for what you may lose? Reading about whistleblowers this week had me wondering if I would ever blow the whistle on an organization I was in – and I’m not sure if I could, specifically because of the digital age we live in.
RAND employee Dan Ellsberg, the legendary leaker of the Pentagon Papers, knew what he was doing when he sent out the papers. He knew the American people were being lied to and provided the documents proving the government deceit to the press to get the information out. One thing we must note, though, is that Ellsberg had the technological advancements of the 1970s on his side – as we see in the films Most Dangerous Man In America and The Post, Ellsberg unlocked the file cabinet containing the Pentagon Papers with a manual key, and, as he walks out of the building, the only security he goes past is a human guard. With all the technology that exists in the 21st century, it’s getting harder and harder to smuggle out information, especially from government buildings. Tap ID and digital keys have erased the anonymity that comes with sneaking in and out of a place – and, even without IDs, we can identify people. Students at my old high school who had snuck in overnight to paint hateful graffiti across the campus were identified because their phones had connected to the WiFi in the building once they entered. Increased surveillance only safeguards those doing the surveilling. What does that mean for people who might want to blow the whistle on deceitful, criminal or fraudulent organizations they are a part of?
The Government Accountability Project and the Society of Professional Journalists have provided an online guide for journalists and their sources on whistleblowing, the law, and anonymity. Whistleblowers face retaliation from the organizations they are a part of – the bigger the organization, the worse the consequences (ex. Edward Snowden.) Whistleblowers face ostracization, but the information they give up is more important than that. Protections in place, there is still a risk of being found out – facilitated by the digital age. I’m still not sure if I could blow the whistle – could you?