Prof. Clark Shares Whistleblower Expertise through Course in Utrecht, Commentary on Dutch Bill

Professor Kathleen Clark’s expertise in the law of whistleblowing has proven timely not only for a course, The Law of Whistleblowing in Comparative Perspective, she taught at the Summer Institute for International Law & Policy in Utrecht, but also because the Dutch Parliament is currently considering a bill that would establish a “House for Whistleblowers” (Huis voor Klokkenluiders) in the Netherlands.

“The ‘House for Whistleblowers’ would provide limited protection for whistleblowers who disclose problems to their employers or to the ‘House,’ but no protection for those who disclose to others, such as law enforcement or the parliament,” Clark says.

The University of Amsterdam sponsored a public forum on the bill, featuring Ronald van Raak, the member of the Dutch Parliament who drafted the bill; Iris van Domselaar, a Dutch law professor; and Clark. (Clark’s PowerPoint presentation can be found here: The House for Whistleblowers: A U.S. Perspective). 

In addition, van Raak and Clark spoke about the issue with a reporter for a Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad, which published their conversation in its June 29 edition. Van Raak explained that the “House for Whistleblowers” would act as an ombudsman to investigate the whistleblower’s charges and make recommendations to address the problems that whistleblowers identify. Clark highlighted the contrast between that kind of limited protection for whistleblowers and the significant financial incentives that the United States provides to whistleblowers who reveal securities violations, tax fraud, and fraud against the federal government.    

Clark and van Domselaar co-authored an op-ed in NRC Handelsblad on July 26, focusing on the bill’s weaknesses. They noted that the financial assistance to whistleblowers would be for a limited time and that the “House” will not have any power to sanction employers who retaliate.  While the “House for Whistleblowers” may be intended to help whistleblowers, it may actually function more like a hospice, where whistleblowers will go to experience their professional death.

Of course, currently the most well-known whistleblower is Edward Snowden, the former National Security Administration (NSA) contractor who released details about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Another Dutch paper, de Volkskrant, published Clark’s comments on the Snowden case on June 27. The next day, the International Bar Association (IBA) quoted Clark discussing a video in which Snowden appears to be appealing to a potential jury pool.

Clark told the IBA that Snowden’s decision to explain his actions through an extended video interview “was a brilliant move.” She explained that “Snowden is clearly trying to go on a charm offensive by establishing the storyline about why he has done it, who he is, and that he is likeable and knowledgeable in some way.”

Clark went on to say that Snowden’s actual motivation “may not be legally relevant to an eventual trial, but the emotional perception of Snowden is significant” in light of the U.S. government’s attempts to vilify him.

Clark observed that the Snowden case is helping bring additional attention not just to government surveillance, but to the role of whistleblowers.