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UN Rapporteur calls for whistleblower and source protections in new report

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has released a new report in which says “sources of information and whistle-blowers” “deserve the strongest protection in law and in practice” and outlines a framework for their protection. Earlier this year, Kaye issued a report on encryption and surveillance, which he called “the first attempt to create a legal framework for digital security.”

In the new report, Kaye writes,

“A common thread ties together the right of access to information, the protection of sources of information and the protection of whistle-blowers: the public’s right to know. Basic protections [in these areas] are critical to an effective right to freedom of expression, accountability and democratic governance.”

Kaye outlines what’s needed for dissemination of information to the public: “a person with knowledge who is willing and able to shed light on what is hidden; a communicator or a communication platform to disseminate that information; and a legal system and political culture that effectively protect both.”

The International Press Institute, which gathered experts from around the world to consult with Kaye, lists the rapporteur’s ‘Key Recommendations for States on Improving Protection for Sources and Whistle-Blowers’

  • Ensure national legal frameworks provide for the right of access to information in accordance with international standards. Any exceptions to disclosure should be narrowly defined and clearly provided by law.
  • Adopt or revise and implement national laws protecting the confidentiality of sources. Confidentiality must apply beyond professional journalists – protection should be based on function, not a formal title.
  • Adopt or revise and implement national legal frameworks protecting whistle-blowers. Protection should be provided to any person who discloses information that he or she reasonably believes, at the time of disclosure, to be true and to constitute a threat or harm to a specified public interest.
  • Internal institutional and external oversight mechanisms should provide effective and protective channels for whistle-blowers to motivate remedial action
  • Protections against retaliation should apply in all public institutions, including those connected to national security.
  • Establish personal liability for those who retaliate against sources and whistle-blowers.
  • Actively promote respect for the right of access to information.

The report will be presented to the UN General Assembly on 22 October.