Being a source of alternative facts from the cheeto bag...
January 23, 2017 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to help keep people/journalists informed in these weird times. If the answer is get thee to a lawyer, kindly let me know what sort. Googling hasn't been fruitful.

I work for a branch of the US government, not at all close to DC shenanigans. Like all federal workers, I get a decent volume of internal emails. These are similar to the email sent to Gizmodo for their article about the NPS twitter accounts being 'frozen'; they are not terribly sensitive and are sent to thousands of employees. I would like to assist as a similar type of source for news agencies, especially because it looks like they will be increasingly cut off from communications, but am not sure of the legality? I am familiar with the Hatch Act and am not doing this for any partisan reasons, because being wary of the cheeto administration is appropriate for everyone.

I'm really aiming NOT to be in illegal territory, but posting anon anyways.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a union, as many federal workers do, first step in my mind would be to ask a trusted union steward or other rep - not for "off the cuff" advice, but for considered advice from union HQ that can be disseminated to any interested employee-members. I bet that the federal workers unions have thought deeply about this type of situation over the years and have considered advice about both the lawfulness/unlawfulness of doing it, and the lawfulness/unlawfulness of firing you for it if you get "caught".
posted by sheldman at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2017

How to Leak to ProPublica

Do NOT mention what you do to ANYONE -- including "trusted" people!
posted by jgirl at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

Do not not not mention this to anyone. This will not be viewed as "non-partisan."

I'm pretty sure printers leave tracking dots. I'm sure cut and paste is not secure. I'm sure there are smart ways to do this, just letting you know you can likely be tracked and should review any contracts, handbooks, and strategies before proceeding.

Yes. You might want to retain a lawyer and then ask this sensitive question. Be careful.
posted by jbenben at 3:49 PM on January 23, 2017

Federal whistleblower protections

Whistleblowing isn't strictly what you are talking about, but the information might be helpful.
posted by jgirl at 3:59 PM on January 23, 2017

As one Fed to another, if you really only have access to information that's going to thousands of other employees and you have to ask this question on AskMe and you're not even comfortable using the term "leak," you are probably not the leaker the world needs.

Leaking internal communications can be very illegal and, if you get caught, exceptionally bad for your career. The Hatch Act doesn't even come close to covering what you're proposing.

(Not a lawyer. Not an expert on laws or policies covering protection of federal information. Work for a sometimes-leaky agency.)
posted by whitewall at 4:15 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

So, as a former journo, it sounds like you're better suited to giving tips, rather than being a source. Instead of providing documents, you're letting journos know that there's something worth looking into, and a person they can talk to or a document they can FOIA. Easy ways to do this include pay phones, friends' phones, even dropping by the paper's office. Basically, unless you're working with fairly sensitive material, that's not leaking and there's no real record that comes back to you — just a pay phone number, or an anonymous twitter handle that only logged in at a library, a dead end for anyone trying to track that backwards.
posted by klangklangston at 6:56 PM on January 25, 2017

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