What does the term “whistleblowing” mean?

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Whistleblowing is when a person reports some improper action that takes place within a business or an institution.

There is a significant amount of risk in being a whistleblower. Because a whistleblower is exposing some improper actions, the whistleblower must be prepared to provide evidence of wrongdoing. Sometimes a culture exists in a business that will protect those who are doing the improper actions. A person could lose his or her job by whistleblowing, and there is a chance things might not change. For example, in the 1970s, an employee at Firestone reported there might be a defect with a specific tire the company was making. Nothing was done about this, though, and the company eventually had to replace millions of tires and settle many lawsuits because many people were killed and injured by the defective tires.

Another example of whistleblowing was W. Mark Felt. Felt was an Associate Director at the FBI. He worked secretly with Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein to share information on how President Nixon was connected to the Watergate Scandal. The reporters referred him to as “deep throat.”

A recent example of a whistleblower would be Edward Snowden. He claimed the government collects data on private individuals. Since he leaked classified documents, he has been charged with espionage. He is currently in Russia, where he was granted asylum.

Because there is a risk to whistleblowers, laws have been passed to protect them. Thirty-five states have passed laws protecting whistleblowers. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 protects government employees who blow the whistle on improper actions. The Sarbanes-Oxley Corporate Reform Act of 2002 protects whistleblowers in publicly traded companies.

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