What's the difference between a whistleblower and a leaker?

Whistleblower vs. leaker

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — You've heard both terms, whistleblowers and leakers, thrown around in recent weeks as House Democrats move forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump based on a  whistleblower complaint.

But often the terms get confused, and there's a key difference between the two.


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Jacksonville-based Morgan & Morgan whistleblower attorney James Young defends people who call out wrongdoing.

"A whistleblower is like the canary in the coal mine. They are the one who raises the alarm and says, ‘I've seen this, I've heard this, I can prove this,'" said Young.

The government must prove the whistleblower's case, but the process isn't simple.

"You really should only blow the whistle on things that you're entitled to know about or have access to. Once you go beyond that, you're committing a crime," said Young.

According to Young, the terms whistleblower and leaker aren't always interchangeable.

"The distinction is a leaker is someone who shares information for purposes of making it publicly known," said Young.

One key difference is protection.

A whistleblower's identity is protected by law, but that's not the case for leakers.

"Just sharing with the press doesn't guarantee any type of accountability or a credibility," said Young.

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Another difference is in who is blowing the whistle. Intelligence whistleblowers follow a different set of rules because the information they have could have to do with national security.

Becoming a whistleblowe, can change lives forever. Many whistleblowers face retaliation and are even blacklisted for future jobs.

"These people are very courageous," said Young.

The identity of a whistleblower can eventually be made public.  For example, whistleblowers who report government fraud can get compensation for helping recover the money, but to get the payout, their name has to become public.