ACLU Says National Security Whistleblower Protections Lacking, Calls For Corrections to Critical Shortcomings in Current Law

February 14, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Citing growing concerns over court decisions that have weakened laws designed to protect whistleblowers, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to enact stronger protections for whistleblowers, especially those in the national security arena. Legislation that would take steps to correct some shortcomings in whistleblower law – but without critical protections for national security whistleblowers – was the subject of a hearing held by a panel of the House Government Reform Committee.

“Whistleblowers play an essential role in keeping government honest,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “These brave men and women inform the public about government misconduct, including civil liberties violations. Whistleblowers have called attention to serious security failures, putting pressure on government to address critical deficiencies.”

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations met today to consider H.R. 1317, the “Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act.” The ACLU said the bill would take steps to correct critical shortcomings in the Whistleblower Protection Acts of 1989 and 1994. Since Congress passed those bills, the main appeals court with jurisdiction has severely weakened the law in a series of decisions that misread the law in a way that is actively hostile to the congressional intent to protect whistleblowers.

The ACLU noted that whistleblowers often suffer retaliation for disclosing embarrassing information. In recent weeks, the Department of Justice has announced that it will investigate the disclosure of an illegal National Security Agency domestic eavesdropping operation approved by President George W. Bush. However, the ACLU noted that the attorney general has yet to investigate which laws were violated by the program – despite repeated calls for such an inquiry from members of Congress. Without the disclosure from that whistleblower, Congress and the public would continue to be unaware of the warrantless surveillance by the NSA.

If enacted, H.R. 1317 would better protect whistleblowers by providing: a normal standard of proof, no penalty for talking to bosses or fellow employees, no requirement that the whistleblower was the first person to make the disclosure, protection against retaliatory investigations and the right to pursue a jury trial when a government watchdog does not act.

The ACLU noted that H.R. 1317 does not protect all whistleblowers, as it leaves out government contractors; fails to fix a gap in current law for intelligence community employees from whom regulatory protections have been insufficient; and does not prohibit the career-ending revocation of a security clearance in retaliation for covered disclosures. It is critical that lawmakers correct these shortcomings, or else national security whistleblowers could remain out in the cold.

“Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by people who have the courage and moral conviction to speak out against misconduct and abuse,” Fredrickson added. “This bill is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. We urge Congress to act on this vital issue.”

To read the ACLU’s letter on H.R. 1317, the “Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act,” go to:

For more on the ACLU’s work with national security whistleblowers, go to:

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to:

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