New protections for European Union whistleblowers were approved overwhelmingly by the European Parliament after testimony from advocates, including Blueprint for Free Speech Executive Director Suelette Dreyfus.
Her Melbourne-based organization, which has a worldwide following, set up Blueprint Greece in 2018 to help push the mission of transparency, protection for whistleblowers and to track and report on wrongdoing throughout the bloc.
Dreyfus is an internationally renowned technology researcher, journalist, and writer specializing in digital security and privacy, the impact of technology, whistleblowing as a form of freedom of expression and the right of dissent from corruption.
Blueprint Speech in 2018 led panels in Athens and Thessaloniki featuring former CIA analyst John Kiriakou, who spent two years in prison for revealing torture practices and is now an acclaimed author of his experiences and featured in media reports.
EU lawmakers, by a vote of 591-29 backed protections for whistleblowers and journalists who helped them after she testified on the need in the wake of growing money laundering scandals and the murder of investigative journalists in Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria.
Those reporting wrongdoing, and working with them in the media, will come under a shield covering people who publish information from being fired or hounded legally by employers or governments accused of violating wide areas of European Union law.
Only 10 of 28 EU states giving comprehensive protection for whistleblowers – those who report violations ranging from tax scandals, misuse of data, fraud and corruption by revealing secret documents from companies or governments.
“The new European law is good. It will strengthen organizational integrity. The focus is on disclosures inside organizations first, which makes sense since more than 90% of whistleblowers would get wrongdoing fixed inside the company agency by going internally,” Dreyfus said.
“It does protect whistleblowers who go to externally – such as to the media – in certain circumstances,” she said, and will now apply across the bloc, setting uniform standards and providing incentives for people to come forward without fearing reprisals.
The rapporteur for the new law, French Socialist Virginie Roziere, said tax-evasion scandals in Luxembourg and the Panama Papers showed whistleblowers needed even more legal protection from reprisals and retaliation, which has included being fired and prosecuted.
The majority of the vote, “sent a strong signal,” Roiziere said, with May 26 European Parliament elections looming.
Dreyfus noted that the law will also apply to private legal entities running operations in financial services, products and markets, or in areas at risk of money laundering or terrorist financing.
It also applies to government, notably entities governed by public law, and small municipalities, with fewer than than 10,000 residents or 50 employees, may be exempted from the provisions. .
But, she added, “Civil society groups and academic experts will need to keep a close eye on EU member state governments to make sure the EU Directive is well-translated into national laws.
“There will be the temptation for governments who don’t want to be accountable to try to fudge the national transposition of the Directive. So civil society and academic experts who study this must be vigilant in the public interest.”
The whistleblower who started the LuxLeaks affair over tax avoidance by large corporations in Europe in 2014 was convicted in Luxembourg together with a colleague and a journalist before the country’s highest court lifted their suspended sentences.
Under the new law, whistleblowers can contact complaint offices via internal or external channels. Depending on the circumstances of the case, immediate publication in the media can also be legal — especially if there is an acute danger, such as from spoiled food or defective software, said Deutsche Welle.
In many EU countries, authorities and companies have so far been able to invoke the fact that employees leaked trade secrets or stole data.
But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested in London, would likely not be covered after publishing confidential e-mails and documents on military secrets, including misconduct of US troops in Iraq.