Reality Winner. Edward Snowden. Chelsea Manning. Julian Assange. Depending upon who you are, these individuals are either treasonous individuals who have broken the law or patriots who did their duty (trust me, I get the mailbag letters here at ClearanceJobs – there are passionate opinions on both sides).

While citizens are entitled to their opinions, the law is clear – if you take classified information and share it with the press, publish it online, or do anything that puts sensitive information in the hands of those unauthorized to see it – you’re not whistleblowing, you’re leaking.

When it comes to whistleblower cases, it’s important to remember that, just as there are official protections for whistleblowers under the law, there are also procedures for properly reporting information. Revealing classified or sensitive information to anyone without a clearance or the authorization to receive it is not whistleblowing—it’s leaking. Even if your leak is supposedly for the greater good, anytime you’re sharing information with the media, or someone who doesn’t have a security clearance, you’re not whistleblowing – you’re leaking.

 

Security clearance holders who value both integrity and national security should take special care to make sure they’re on the right side of the law. Whistleblower protections do exist, but a whistleblower will not be protected if they violated the law and policy in their attempt to report something they didn’t feel was right. There are criminal penalties for sharing classified information. You haven’t just broken the trust of your government employer when you leak information, you’ve broken the law. Fines and jail time are typical for those caught sending Uncle Sam’s secrets to outside sources. And while the penalties may seem harsh or lenient depending upon your opinion of why the information was shared, the fact remains – your career and life will never be the same.

If you have an issue with your supervisor, the nature of your work, or the mission at hand, there are proper channels for reporting information. Make sure you’re following the law, to keep your career and yourself safe.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.