Technology and the Whistleblower
As the meeting comes to a close, your boss smirks with an self
assured arrogance. He then says that you should seriously
consider his offer, because he has it on good authority, that
there may be a very localized downsizing in your department.
Wouldn't it be nice to smirk back and just say "no thanks".
This scenario plays out more often then most people realize.
With all of the recent business and government scandals there
were a lot of people who knew that books were being cooked, laws
being broken and the health of the public being put at risk,
just to keep profits high and investors content. Many people
felt that there was nothing they could do against powerful
executives and corrupt bureaucrats. The credibility of a low
level employee compared to that of a 'successful' corporate
executive is a huge hurdle to overcome. Also, corporate lawyers
are there to defend the company, even from internal hazards. So,
once a person decides to speak up, they must be prepared to have
their credibility brutally attacked and the onslaught of legal
preceding from an all-star team of corporate lawyers.
Just the thought of legal proceedings can stop a person from
making the ethical choice. It's easy for people to be vilified
by their employer, at which point the credibility of the person
speaking out is destroyed. How is possible for a single person
to fight a company or government with infinite resources? Many
years ago, it was practically impossible. However, the "digital
revolution" may have changed the balance of power. For a
"whistleblower" to be effective they need proof of wrong doing
and a method to communicate those issues to the public. The
availability of compact electronic devices such as digital audio
recorders and digital cameras allow an individual to document
many of the issues and bring the power back to the
The first piece of technology that should be in every
whistleblowers repertoire is a digital audio recorder. These
devices are so small that they can be put in a shirt pocket
without being noticed. Once you decide to "blow the whistle" you
should start recording all of your conversations. Keep a log of
the items discussed, so that you can refer to the appropriate
recording when needed, otherwise you can spend hours going back
over the content. The best part is that these devices are not
expensive. A digital voice recorder costs about $100, or many
times MP3 players have a microphone built into the device, so
they can be used to record conversations.
Another device that is very handy is a voice modem with
telephone recording software. This will allow you to, hook up
your phone, and record any conversations that occur over the
phone. If you get fired before you have all the evidence,
sometimes telephone conversations, with the people in power, can
help to document important facts, because people very rarely
think they are being recorded and say things that they probably
should not have.
Make sure you check your local laws regarding conversation
recording. In most places it is legal to record with one-party
consent. One-party consent means that if you are involved in the
conversation, you do not need to notify the other parties that
you are recording the conversation. In Canada, one-party consent
is the law. In the United States it is a little more
complicated, as some states have their own regulations. You can
refer to this recording
law chart to determine what laws affect you. If in doubt,
speak with a lawyer.
The third device every whistleblower should have is a digital
camera. Many times the violations are in manufacturing or
packaging, which could be a public health concern. These can be
very hard to document and prove, since the paper records may be
manipulated. A picture says a thousand words though, and will
help authorities uncover doctored documents. When taking
pictures be very cautious as most companies prohibit camera's on
their premises. Many cell phones are now equipped with digital
camera's, so they are easier to conceal. Take as many pictures
as you can and try to prove the date you took them. Some camera
have a date stamp feature, even though this is easy to
manipulate. The best option is to take a picture of the daily
newspaper beside the offending subject. This is very hard for
lawyers to argue against and disprove that the violations
happened on that particular date.
The last piece of equipment needed is a computer. When the
authorities begin investigating your complaint, you will need to
produce your evidence such as documents pointing to the issues.
Most corporations are moving towards a paperless environment,
which means that these documents will only be accessible by a
computer. The other important part your computer plays, is to
backup all of those images and audio recordings. Make sure your
computer has a CD writer or DVD writer. Take these backups and
put them somewhere secure, like a bank deposit box.
One area of concern is the removal of corporate documents from
the office. This can violate many legal agreements you may have
signed. If you are worried about this, there is a very simple
solution. Backup all of the evidence files at work and stash
them somewhere in the office. In the ceiling or in duct work is
a great place. Basically, anywhere nobody ever looks. When it is
time to produce these documents, simply tell the authorities
that you have stashed them in a safe place at the office. The
evidence is kept safe and you haven't violated any agreements, a
In the future, companies may begin banning digital devices from
the workplace for the exact reasons being discussed here.
However, if were are persistent, it may go the other way and
corporate behaviour may change, which is the ultimate goal of
being a whistleblower. The days of "plausible deniability" and
"disgruntled employees" are disappearing quickly.