State surveillance a danger to ‘whistleblowers, journalism and democracy’ warns PCAW

24th February 2017

WHISTLEBLOWERS and journalists are likely to be damaged by ‘state surveillance laws’ created to keep a lid on Government official secrets - and a wholesale review of whistleblowing protection is needed.

Public Concern at Work has accused the UK Government of acting in ‘self-interest’ following the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act, the Digital Economy Bill and recent Law Commission proposals to update the Official Secrets Act with a proposed new Espionage Act.

A new report, launched today – ‘Protecting sources and whistleblowers in a digital age’ highlights how whistleblowers and journalists confidential sources are being compromised by state surveillance.

Public Concern at Work Chief Executive, Cathy James, said, ‘’Legal protection for whistleblowing is facing numerous grave threats and all of this is complicated by confusion around what is meant by whistleblowing and the distinction between this and leaking.

‘’The self-interested approach of the UK government is all about gathering information and protecting government secrets. Nowhere is there an acknowledgement of the need to encourage, celebrate and champion genuine whistleblowing. This is crucial for the public interest and for democracy itself.’’

Public Concern at Work welcomes the report Protecting sources and whistleblowers in a digital age’ which calls for a wholesale review of whistleblower protection in the UK. The current whistleblowing law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which came into force in 1998, is outdated, and has not kept pace with technological changes, or the issue of mass data collection.

Public interest journalism, source and whistleblower protection is under profound threat and needs to be given the same attention by government as the issue of government data protection and collection.

Co-authored by Dr Judith Townend and Dr Richard Danbury of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), Protecting sources and whistleblowers in a digital age’ looks at practical ways in which journalists can reduce threats to whistleblowing, examines the rights and responsibilities of journalists, whistleblowers and lawmakers, and makes a number of positive recommendations for policymakers, journalists, NGOs and researchers.