As a rule all government information should be accessible and open to the public for scrutiny as this enables democratic participation and the development of sound public policies even in sensitive areas such as national security. However, history has shown that governments or parts of government can use overly broad exceptions to open information which prevents effective public scrutiny and debate about government decision-making and activities, and thus there must be safeguards to ensure against such practices.
Whistleblower protection is one such important safeguard and should therefore be extended to all those working with sensitive or classified information whether in public administration, the armed services, national security, defence or intelligence services, or the private sector. Clearly whistleblower protection in such circumstances needs to allow for the proper consideration and protection, where necessary, of other important interests such as national security, international relations, personal privacy, provision of free and open advice, commercial confidentiality, etc.
The Global Principles on National Security and Right to Information (Tshwane Principles), based on international and national law, standards and good practices, provide guidance to legislators and relevant officials throughout the world – they set out a proportionate approach to facilitating internal whistleblowing for those working with sensitive information, and the protection that should be available to those who publicly disclose wrongdoing or other information of public interest. Importantly, the Tshwane Principles include a public interest defence for public servants, whether or not they meet the conditions for whistleblower protection as laid out in the Principles, if the public interest in the disclosure outweighs the public interest in keeping it secret.
- Adopt the principle that all those who work with sensitive information should be protected from retaliation for whistleblowing on public interest matters including wrongdoing, risk or government abuse.
- Consult with stakeholders including trade unions, civil society groups (e.g., human rights and whistleblower advocacy or campaigning), legal profession and the judiciary, ombudsperson and other independent regulators on how to facilitate whistleblowing and protect whistleblowers in relation to sensitive information.
- Review existing laws and policies to facilitate whistleblowing and protect whistleblowers against the Tshwane Principles.