The official name for whistleblowing is ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’. The metaphor is thought to come from the police, before walky-talkies, who would blow their whistle to alert passersby and nearby police to a crime or criminal. However, whistleblowing is not usually performed by the authorities. Whistleblower’s are not typically authorised to speak up, nor do they usually have power over the people on whom they blow the whistle.
Whistleblowing is the act of a private citizen going public with hidden, secret or suppressed information. This is what is meant by it being a ‘disclosure’. This going public or making public is an act of publishing in which the public is called on not only as the addressee of a statement but as a counter-power to the person or organisation that is guilty of wrongdoing. That is, while the private individual might feel powerless to curb this wrongdoing by raising the issue with the guilty party – and suspect reprisals – by going public the private individual puts the powerful individual in a vulnerable position vis a vis the public.
From a narrow legislative point of view, the condition of the disclosure as being ‘in the public interest’ is in place to prevent whistleblowing from descending into gossipy character assassination and other trivial and invasive acts of telling tales on individuals. From a political point of view, however, it is vital that whistleblowing be in the public interest because it is the content of the disclosure that calls forth the public which subsequently deploys its collective power against the wrongdoer.
The state guarantees your rights as a whistleblower and formally guarantees that no whistleblower will be victimized for reporting someone who holds power over them, such as an employer. This falls well short of setting up practices, social forces and institutions that encourage and enable whistleblowing. This is because the state, inevitably, has a monopoly on legal action, and punishes anyone who ‘takes the law into their own hands’. In other words, legistlation on whistleblowing that protects the whistleblower, necessarily at the same time separates the whistleblower from the collective power that they address by going public, replacing the public with the state. This is why ordinary people have to organize themselves to encourage, train and support whistleblowing on a mass scale, without the aid, protection or interference of the state.