There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about President Donald Trump, Ukraine, and a whistleblower. A whistleblower is someone who “blows the whistle” or tells on someone for doing something wrong. An unnamed CIA worker says he has some information about a phone call between President Trump and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Reports say the whistleblower thinks Trump tried to make Zelensky give him information against the law. The claim by the secret source has led to people trying to remove Trump from his job as president – this is called impeachment.
History of Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing has a long history, and the informant is usually anonymous (their name is kept secret) for their safety. Whistleblowing goes all the way back to the year 695, when King Wihtred of Kent (England) said, “if a freeman works during [the Sabbath], he shall forfeit his [profits], and the man who informs against him shall have half the fine, and [the profits] of the labor.” This was the start of laws that let someone report lawbreakers and claim a reward for doing so.
In America, none other than Benjamin Franklin was the first to use this process. In 1773, he claimed that the governor of Massachusetts had purposely misled the British Parliament to build up the military in the American Colonies. As proof, Franklin showed private letters showing the governor had been appointed (given his job) by the British king.
Today, there are some famous whistleblowers who have passed private government papers to the public. These people showed people when the government or companies were doing the wrong thing. Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, which showed that some people in the government had lied to Congress and the public about the Vietnam War. Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been watching the public by collecting phone records, emails, and internet histories of people around the world.
Whistleblowers can get into trouble for releasing private information, so they usually come forward only when they have something important to show.