Recap: TSN holds RightsCon panel on whistleblower protections in U.S., U.K., Ireland

The Signals Network Executive Director Delphine Halgand-Mishra, Whistleblowing International Network Executive Director Anna Myers, and Maynooth University assistant law professor Dr. Lauren Kierans BL held a virtual panel at the 2023 RightsCon Summit to discuss the universal best practices and unique differences between whistleblowing in Ireland, the U.S. and the U.K.

“People who are deciding to blow the whistle … they should know their rights,” Halgand-Mishra said. “We are here today to unpack the things that people should know if they see wrongdoings and if they want to speak up.”

Over the last two years, TSN and WIN have have helped create the original Tech Worker Handbook for the U.S. and the soon-to-be-released guide for the U.K. Meanwhile, TSN and Dr. Kierans are creating a similar guide for Ireland. Both the UK and Irish versions of the handbook are due to be released in the fall of 2023.

The speakers stressed that the panel itself did not substitute for legal advice to whistleblowers, and people considering speaking out should seek advice from a lawyer or whistleblower support organisation to better understand their options.

Of some of the expertise offered, Myers encouraged people considering blowing the whistle to think about their strategy and make sure to talk to family and friends.

“No single person is bulletproof,” Myers said.

Kierans offered her expert perspective from Ireland. Thanks to new legislation in Ireland this year, public and large private organizations are now required to have a more robust framework that is expected to better protect Irish whistleblowers who fear retaliation, Kierans said.

“People may fall foul of falling silent because of their NDA because they’re not aware of the fact that they have protections under the legislation,” Kierans said. “So this issue of awareness and training is so important.”

Kierans also advised workers to be careful of how many people they speak to when blowing the whistle, and to be careful when disclosing information from their workplace. Whistleblower protection laws may not protect you from breaching internal rules when gathering evidence, she said.

“Bear in mind that the more people that you speak to, the more difficult it is for your identity to be protected,” Kierans said. “It’s important to be aware that there’s a difference between making your disclosure anonymously and making your disclosure confidentially.”

Countries have adopted better whistleblowing laws in recent years, but there still needs to be an international discussion between countries to fortify protections of whistleblowers and the public interest, Myers said.

“This can’t be their own responsibility,” Myers said. “We have to join them. It’s a circle of support that needs to go around them. That’s a big ask in every workplace in the world. So it really is important that we start to engage civil society… so they can really work on this.”

In her parting words, Halgand-Mishra recommended people thinking about whistleblowing to read the resources that are already available, pointing to the existing Tech Worker Handbook that provides information on laws, online security and how to talk to media. And soon, there will be specific versions of the handbook available for both Ireland and the UK.

Founded in 2017, TSN is a 501(c)3 organization with international operations dedicated to supporting whistleblowers and holding powerful interests accountable. TSN provides customized legal, psychological, physical safety, temporary safe-housing, online safety, career and communication support to a selected group of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing.

Established in 2018, WIN is a global whistleblowing membership network and the information hub for the whistleblower protection community. The organization works to strengthen the legal, technical and strategic skills of civil society around the world to support whistleblowers in the public interest.

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