Leaked Transparency and Whistleblowers

Leaks are becoming the new norm of transparency and perhaps the main source of informed public debate. The Panama mega leak and LuxLeaks expose tax heavens and show the salience of whistleblowers for triggering accountability. Yet, in Europe little or no whistleblower protection exists. Isn’t the time ripe to change this legal scene?

Transparency and Leaks

Transparency and accountability together are meant to expose wrongdoing and help ensure that there is no impunity of any party involved, whether governments, companies or individuals. But transparency ensured through institutional or legal mechanisms does not always succeed in exposing wrongdoing in a timely fashion. That is especially the case when information is protected under special legal regimes such as security classified information, business or trade secrets. The Catch-22, as noted before, is that identifying abuses of secrecy requires access to the very material being kept secret. This access in turn is systematically problematic for parliamentary committees or other independent review bodies.

Increasingly we witness the exposure of corruption, abuse of power or wrongdoing through leaks, i.e. decisions of individuals to disclose secret information. And although leaks are nothing new, the current technological and information infrastructure enable the rapid disclosure of millions of documents from nearly 40 years of records without much trouble and in a protected way as the mega leak of the Panama papers shows. This ‘radical’ transparency might not lead to ‘radical’ accountability but it offers insights to citizens for public debates that otherwise would not happen. Besides the exposure of information as such, these leaks are usually organised and presented in way that is easily accessible and readable for the general public ...

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