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Life After Whistleblowing for High-Tech Whistleblowers

Posted  October 9, 2014

By Marlene Koury

Can high-tech whistleblowers have a career after blowing the whistle? Yes, according to a new article in Computerworld magazine, but with some caveats. High-tech whistleblowers are increasingly in the spotlight, with Snowden, Manning and others making headlines for exposing serious concerns relating to privacy, data collection and security. But it’s not just data protection and privacy issues that are sounding the alarm, with access to their companies’ entire computer systems, IT professionals are more and more regularly coming across fraud, corruption, illegal activity, safety violations and health hazards.

The question is where do these whistleblowers go to report their concerns? In the past few years more and more companies are wising up and developing compliance programs to assist whistleblowers in reporting issues internally so that the company can remedy the problem without government involvement. Of course, when those internal compliance programs fail – or are never developed in the first place – whistleblowers have no choice but to report externally, often to the government. And with greater legal protections for whistleblower now than ever before, reporting to the government has become a viable (and for some, lucrative) option for employees with serious concerns who have been rebuffed by their employers.

But the government is not the only option. Sometimes a high-tech whistleblower prefers a high-tech solution. Enter one of the many third-party sites and submission systems purposely built for whistleblowers to anonymously report information. These systems, such as AdLeaks, Tor and GlobalLeaks, are typically favored when the whistleblower seeks to contact a reporter or watchdog group rather than the government.

Whether an IT professional can have a career after blowing the whistle depends on the method of reporting and, of course, the company in question. A good sign is when the company has a strong internal compliance program. Companies that have developed these programs typically view whistleblowers as a key component to keeping the company out of hot water. Companies that do not have compliance programs, however, force whistleblowers to go externally, whether to the government or to the press. And despite legal protections and steps to ensuring anonymity, there is no guarantee that a whistleblower will emerge from the process unscathed.

What does this all mean for would-be high-tech whistleblowers? The protections and incentives are stronger. The options are more plentiful. The public appetite is heartier. Unfortunately, the risk of retaliation or negative backlash remains as high as ever. See The Stubborn Persistence of Whistleblower Retaliation. So what it really comes down to is whether the type of fraud at issue and how the company deals with whistleblowers. Hopefully, the world of high-tech will see the light and embrace the growing realization that when you see something it is absolutely the right thing to say something.