Americans who get labeled a “whistleblower” become a hero. Get labeled a “leaker” and you could get branded a traitor and end up in jail. What’s the difference? It all depends on the status of information shared and the channels that the information travels through to become public.
Whistleblower Protections: In essence, a whistleblower is a leaker of information that certain parties would have preferred to remain secret. To encourage people to come forward with information out of concern for public safety, there are U.S. statutes that protect whistleblowers. However, there is a fine line between being a protected whistleblower or a criminal leaker.
Status Of Information: Any American citizen can disclose corporate or government information so long as it is not federally classified information or disclosures prohibited by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.
- Trade Secrets: A patented product or process is one tangible example of a trade secret. Patent information is protected for 17 years. But companies and individuals enjoy protection of certain trade related information other than what is covered by a patent. However a trade secret is specifically defined, it enjoys legal protection.
- Federal Information: There are generally three categories of federally classified material: sensitive, secret and confidential. Category is determined by who might be harmed if the information went public. However, material must be de-classified after it ages past the 25-year mark unless it meets a narrow exemption, such as designs for nuclear weapons.