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From patriot to pariah

Peter Munro (via SMH) | July 15, 2013
In an era where technology has made it easier to smuggle data, governments are determined to demonise whistleblowers.

Drake has described the attacks on Snowden as a distraction from a greater concern. "The government is desperate to not deal with the actual exposures, the content of the disclosures. Because they do reveal a vast, systemic, institutionalised, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism - far beyond."

The new documentary War on Whistleblowers catalogues the casualties of this pursuit of perceived enemies from within. Marine Corps senior science adviser Franz Gayl lost his security clearance and work prospects after exposing the Pentagon's delays in getting armoured vehicles to US troops in Iraq. Michael DeKort lost his job at Lockheed Martin for exposing flaws in the ships the contractor was building for the US Coast Guard.

In both cases, the nature of what they revealed offered no respite from prosecution. Gayl's actions saved the lives of many US soldiers. DeKort exposed the sheer absurdity of fitting Coast Guard boats with non-waterproof radios.

Mainstream media can be bypassed in this process. DeKort posted a video on YouTube revealing his concerns. Snowden, meanwhile, is being assisted in his flight by WikiLeaks.

Melbourne University's Dr Suelette Dreyfus, the author of Underground, a book about a group of hackers including a young Julian Assange, says technology has changed the game for every player.

While digital tools - such as encryption programs - have made whistleblowing easier, authorities are turning the same technology inward to spy on employees and to plug leaks. Some investigative journalists complain fewer whistleblowers are coming forward for fear of being tracked down.

Snowden, ever the idealist, reckons "draconian responses simply build better whistleblowers". "Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrongdoings simply because they'll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it."

But inadequate whistleblower laws across the globe are a disincentive, says Dreyfus. ''One whistleblower I interviewed said: 'Sometimes I see these guys and it's like all they have left in their lives are the boxes of documents they have taken with them. They end up living in a caravan, isolated, left without spouse or house, and hiding from people wanting to harm them. All they have left are these boxes.'''

What might we call Snowden? A whistleblower is someone who reveals inside information or the internal workings about serious wrongdoing within an organisation.

Manning faces a possible life sentence for allegedly ''aiding the enemy'', by providing secret material to WikiLeaks. Yet that included video of a US air strike in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians - a brutal case of serious wrongdoing.

Snowden, meanwhile, has revealed details of a secret surveillance system operating in the US and abroad without any of the apparent checks and balances essential in a democracy. A new poll in the US has found more Americans believe he is a whistleblower than a traitor - and the public mood might win the day.

 

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