Committee calls for national security whistleblower protection

Council of Europe logoThe Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights published its draft report on Improving the Protection of Whistleblowers in light of the revelations of Edward Snowden [19 March 2015].

The Committee stressed the importance of ensuring that secrecy for reasons of national security does not act as a cover for wrongdoing or is used to stifle public debate and calls on all member States to ensure whistleblower protection covers all those working in national security and intelligence-related fields.

This Committee held two inquiries and its first report on Mass Surveillance was published only weeks ago in January 2015.

Edward Snowden testified before the Committee in Strasbourg in June 2014, along with Anna Myers of WIN. Myers commented about the resolution and report:

Like many of my WIN colleagues working around the world, I welcome the Committee’s unrelenting commitment to the protection of whistleblowers as a serious matter of democracy. How whistleblowers are treated in relation to information that may stray into areas of government secrecy – even national security – is a litmus test of the health of our systems of accountability.

Ms. Myers’ testimony is reflected in the Committee’s report and resolution, including her recommendation that whistleblowers be able to avail themselves of a public interest defense and asylum as a means of protection.

Significantly, the Committee’s draft resolution urges states to grant asylum to whistleblowers threatened by retaliation. The resolution is based on a detailed report that drew heavily on the experience of Edward Snowden who gave evidence to the Committee by live video link. In a follow-up hearing, Jesselyn Radack, of the Government Accountability Project (a co-founder of WIN) gave a statement on behalf of John Kiriakou (the former CIA analyst who blew the whistle on the use of torture) along with Maria Bameih (a British prosecutor with Eulex-Kosovo who blew the whistle on corruption).

The report relied heavily on the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles) and calls for those charged with breaching secrecy laws to be able to avail themselves of a public interest defence. This is a vital safeguard to ensure that the law is weighted properly in favour of protecting the public interest. In fact the resolution calls for the U.S. to allow Snowden to return without fear of criminal prosecution under laws that prevent a public interest defense, like the Espionage Act.

Sandra Coliver, of the Open Society Justice Initiative, the body instrumental in the development of the Tshwane Principles, writes more about this important call from Europe in her blog.  Ms. Coliver points out that the draft resolution

marks the first time that any inter-governmental body has called on the U.S. not to prosecute Snowden unless he is afforded the opportunity to raise a public interest defense.

This is hugely significant call for action to protect whistleblowers and to allow Edward Snowden, specifically, the opportunity to defend himself in the public interest.

The full Parliamentary Assembly will debate the report and the resolution in Strasbourg this June.