FAIRE SOCIETE: Libertés publiques et libertés individuelles, civil disobedience

Civil disobedience

Whistleblowers or hacktivists?

Hacking is an illegal criminal activity whereby criminals use a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system.

Whistleblowing is a legal activity that constitutes exposing any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical or constitutes a risk to individuals or the general public. However, if the whistleblowers are hacking in order to expose the illegal or unethical activity, does it make the act of hacking more acceptable to our society as it rides on the back of “the greater good”? As in true Robin Hood style, stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor is OK. But is it? Isn’t it a case of legal double standards?
                             “The Very Fine Line between Hacking and Whistleblowing”, Elad Ben-Meir, 2016.

Whistleblowers: vocabulary


a whistleblower un(e) lanceur(euse) d’alerte

a backlash une réaction violente

a betrayal une trahison

a copycat un(e) imitateur(trice)

a firing un licenciement

an indictment une inculpation

a wrongdoing un méfait


legitimate légitime

ikely vraisemblable

praiseworthy digne d’éloges


to advise [sb] not to do [sth] déconseiller à [qqn] de faire [qqch]

to betray [sb/sth] trahir [qqn/qqch]

to leak sensitive information faire fuiter des informations sensibles

to revere [sb] admirer [qqn]

to revile [sb] injurier [qqn]

to tamper with information trafiquer une information

to expose [sth] dénoncer [qqch]

to rat on / to denounce [sb]  dénoncer [qqn]

to resort to [sth] avoir recours à [qqch]

to strengthen [sth] renforcer [qqch]

to weaken [sth] fragiliser [qqch]

to weigh the pros and cons of [sth] peser le pour et le contre de [qqch]


The costs are worth bearing.” Ça vaut la peine de supporter les coûts.

Document 1: introduction

Lady Liberty as a whistleblower by Andy Marlette - September 20, 2019

Context of the cartoon :

A whistleblower claimed the president was illegally “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” Trump was said to have asked Ukraine to investigate the Biden family to try and find damaging elements about Joe Biden. So the President was impeached (= être mis en accusation pour faute ), the Senate (whose majority is republican) held a trial and cleared (= blanchir) Trump.

The cartoon :

A well-known figure is shown here : the statue of Liberty whose face is distorted since she is blowing in a whistle as hard as she can. This action is demanding much effort on her ; beads (= gouttes) of sweat can be seen all around her face. The cartoon is entitled the Whistleblower. This is an individual who decides to speak out and denounce things that he or she morally condemns. This is called civil disobedience (désobéissance civique), a concept invented by Henry Thoreau who refused to pay his taxes and picked up by MLK when he protested against racial segregation in the 1960s. More recently, Edward Snowden denounced NSA mass surveillance.

The cartoonist compares whistleblowers to the Statue of Liberty, which means that he considers that the values (the protection of individuals and their liberties) attached to the Statue also apply (= s’appliquer) to whistleblowers.

Yet from the look on her face, we can deduce that this task seems to be very difficult to accomplish.

Two possible interpretations :

– No matter how hard the statue of Liberty blows the whistle, no one will listen to her.

– there are so many wrongdoings (= méfaits) that the statue/the whistleblower is overwhelmed (= submergé) by the task.

As a conclusion, the cartoonist reminds (= rappeler) us that whistleblowers try to defend individual liberties when they decide to expose wrongdoings. He also shows that they are not always heard and/or no actions are taken by the authorities when these wrongdoings are exposed.

Document 2

THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

1) Nature, source, date and author of the document.

Trailer of a documentary shot in 2009 by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. It follows Daniel Ellsberg and explores the events leading up to the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers which exposed the secret military history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The film won an award.

2) Historical context

1971 : the USA had been fighting against communist troops supported by China since 1963 and the conflict had numerous negative impacts on the US economy, as well as on the morale of the troops and the population (many people thought that the war was fundamentally wrong and immoral)

3) Summary of the document.

Daniel Ellsberg, former United States military analyst, blew the whistle on U.S. Government misconduct in the Vietnam War by leaking the “Pentagon Papers.” The Pentagon Papers revealed that the government knew that the war could most likely not be won.

Ellsberg was charged of theft and conspiracy but due to governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering the charges were later dropped.

Ellsberg’s disclosures (/dɪsˈkləʊʒərz/= révélations) are credited as a major factor in ending the war.

4) Point of view of the people involved regarding Daniel Ellsberg as a whistleblower.

– The successive presidents of the period (Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and US officials (Henry Kissinger) supported the war and condemned Ellsberg who had disclosed military information calling him « traitor», « thief », « son of a bitch », « the most dangerous man in America ». Nixon said that he had given an advantage to the enemy

– Daniel Ellsberg claimed he did not want to go on lying and accept the killing of innocent civilians in Vietnam

– An editor who worked for the New York Times, the paper which leaked the Pentagon Papers.

– A news presenter announces that secret information was disclosed, which incurred President Nixon’s wrath (/ræθ/) (= provoke the anger)

– A man who says that Ellsberg, a public official, gave priority to conscience rather than career

Conclusion : the document is related to the theme: Public and individual liberties and has a connection with the issue of a free press during the Vietnam Era, when Nixon tried to bar The New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Document 3

Edward Joseph Snowden

(born June 21, 1983) he is an American whistleblower who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 when he was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee and subcontractor.

1) Nature, source, date, author of the document :

A TV night show called Nightline hosted by a male journalist who presents an interview a female colleague conducted with Edward Snowden after he fled to Russia in 2013.

2) Historical context:

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, It protects U.S. communications networks and information systems. The NSA says it needs data from all over the world to help prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11. As a consequence, their growing power threatens the right to privacy.

3) Summary of the document:

E. Snowden is presented as America’s most-wanted fugitive hiding in Moscow where he lives undercover though he expects the NSA to know where he is hiding. He is accused of having disclosed top secret NSA documents in which systemic government surveillance of civilians here and abroad was exposed,

4) Point of views of the people involved regarding E. Snowden as a whistleblower:

– This disclosure both enraged and embarrassed the NSA ; he is considered as a spy.

– He claims that what he did was right ; he broke the law but he did for people’s sake and to protect the right to privacy.

5) Analysis:

We learnt that under the pretend of protecting the US citizens from a terrorist threat the NSAviolated / trampled all over (= bafouer) the fundamental right to privacy . This TV report clearly gives Snowden the opportunity to justify himself.

The document is related to the theme: Public and individual liberties and the right to privacy and personal data protection.

Document 4

Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning

U.S. Army intelligence analyst who provided the Web site WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown ou[t] any logically based intentions, it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, « There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people. »

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

Bradley Manning, after he received a 35-year prison sentence.

1) Nature, source, date, author of the document :

A written statement Bradley Manning made after he received a 35-year prison sentence in August 2013. It was released by his attorney (*/əˈtɜːrni/) (US) / lawyer (/ˈlɔɪər/) (GB)

2) Historical context

2009-2010 : the USA had been involved in a war which had started in 2003.The US troops occupied Iraq until their withdrawal in December 2011.

3) Summary of the document.

Whisteblower Bradley Manning (formerly Bradley) is the US Army Private (= soldier) who leaked military and government documents to the online media Wikileaks. In 2013, he was convicted by a military court and sentenced to 35 years in prison. In this statement, he explains how he changed his mind regarding the way the USA conducted the war in Iraq. He acknowledges that after 9/11, the battle against terrorism justified the use of torture and immoral military actions. But once in Iraq, he changed his mind when he witnessed the secret killing of unarmed civilians (by soldiers on board an Apache (/əˈpætʃi/) helicopter). He leaked classified documents to stop torture and atrocities in Iraq, he felt compelled to do so by his conscience. For him, patriotism or the defence of democracy don’t justify the killing of innocent people.

4) Point of view of the people involved regarding Manning as a whistleblower.

He was considered as a traitor, aiding the Iraqi enemy and leaking top-secret information.

5) What people learn from the document and why the document was made.

Here we only get Manning’s point of view. He explains how he got as far as to become a « traitor » to his nation. He apologizes for what he did but considers that it was his duty to act that way.

The document is related to the theme: Public and individual liberties : freedom of conscience.

Document 5

Whistleblowers: Fighting to be heard

1) Nature, source, date, author of the document

RTE report (Radio Television of Ireland) :

In review, RTE utilizes minimally loaded words in their articles and they do present fairly low biased coverage of USA news, and they utilize credible sources through large blocks of quotes and sometimes use social media as source links. From mediabiasfactcheck.com

An internet article from September 2020, written by Barry O’Kelly. It presents the TV night show entitled Whistleblowers : Fighting to be Heard broadcast on September 21st on RTE.

2) Historical context

No particular context. The aim is to show how difficult it is to reveal misdeeds in Irish society today.

3) Summary of the document.

It is a series of portraits of Irish whistleblowers which insists on the fact that whistleblowers contribute to a better society but sounding the alarm can have serious repercutions on Whistleblowers’ lives at work for example. They are called « traitors », « snitches ». They are supposed to be protected by legislation but it is not the case.

4) The testimonies.

– Seamus O’loughlin reported oil and gas leaks from a power plant. The impact of his disclosure (= révélation) were financial (huge legal bills) and psychological for him and his wife. But he feels it is his duty to speak up.

– Leona O’Callaghan reported fraudulent expenses (dépenses frauduleuses) at the University of Limerick. She had to deal with the pressure on her own and often thought she was wrong . Fortunately, she joined a group of whistleblowers.

– Olivia Greene reported fraudulous lending practices of her building society. She lost her job in the financial service and had a hard time in her company after that. That broke her career and her self- confidence but she has no regret.

– Iain Smith unsuccessfully reported to the HSE (Health and safety Executive- an Irish governmental social service) the abuse of a woman in a foster family for 20 years. To be heard, he had to complain to the Minister for health. The procedure has kept busy for one year and it is not over yet.

5) Analysis 

Disclosing misdeeds demands a lot of courage and energy. This report helps understand what whistleblowers have to go through to contribute to redress wrongs. It is time and money consuming but none of the witnesses regrets what they did.

The document related to the theme: Public and individual liberties : freedom of conscience.

Document 6

Coronavirus Report: Covid “Whistleblowers” Are Making Money From Tattling On Those Who Break Rules

1) Nature, source, date, author of the document : .

Report from an internet site /September 21st, 2020 / Steve Watson 

Summit.news : Launched in March 2019, Summit News is a far-right conspiracy website. Like most questionable sources this website does not have an about page nor disclosure of ownership. though it is presumed Paul Joseph Watson, former editor for Infowars is the owner. The website, based in the UK, is funded through advertising and donations.Further, Summit News has been banned on Facebook.

Summit News’ sources are often linked to Youtube videos and social media posts and most of the time react with shock and outrage against the left, Muslims, and Feminists. They frequently promote conspiracy theories such as the Notre Dame Cathedral fire being set by arsonists. They also promote white nationalism through their fear that Whites are being replaced in countries like Canada.

From mediabiasfactcheck.com

Reuters : In reporting, Reuters (based in the United Kingdom) uses minimally biased emotional language in their headlines, and credible local sources ; it reports news with minimal bias, covering both sides of issues.mediabiasfactcheck rate Reuters Least Biased based on objective reporting and Very High for factual reporting.

Reuters’ video report : https://www.reuters.com/video/watch/on-campus-whistleblowers-fight-covid-19-id719231493?chan=sjvuxmq

2) Historical context

The Covid-19 crisis in the USA and how universities fight against the virus spread.

3) Summary of the document.

The journalist reports the main information gathered by Reuters about universities paying students to report on other students breaking the Covid rules.

4) Analysis of the point of view of the people involved.

The original report is quite alarming regarding the lack of safety on campuses. Summit news report is quite faithful to what is reported by Reuters. Yet, a few clues tell us that the journalists doesn’t approve of the method.

The headline uses the term « tattling », which is rather derogatory (péjoratif) and the term « making money » transform the whistleblowers into snitches (=balances / mouchards) only interested in money and not the community’s safety. The fact that the term whistleblower is in quotation marks indicate that the journalist is not fooled by (ne pas être berné par) by those so called benevolent students (+ line 30 : « an opportunity to get ahead of.. »= passer devant). The subtitle confirms the feeling with the word « enforce » in quotations marks. Irony is perceived line 3 with « We’re all very pro-snitch right now »

5) What we learn from the document and why the document was made.

We learnt that students have been commissioned to report on fellow students breaking the Covid rules but the journalist questions (= remettre en cause) the relevance (= pertinence) of this measure. Indeed, he uses words turning those whistleblowers into spies who could report on others for personal reasons ( competition, revenge..) and the reader may wonder if the system violates students’ privacy and freedom of speech.

The document related to the theme: Public and individual liberties but the journalist is not neutral (he is biased).

Document 7

Coronavirus Whistleblowers Blast Trump Administration's COVID-19 Response in Totally Under Control Documentary Trailer

There are two things dominating the news cycle right now: COVID-19 and Donald Trump. The president revealed on Thursday night that he and his wife Melania Trump have been diagnosed with coronavirus, following the news that his top aide Hope Hicks tested positive on Wednesday. So Friday’s release of the trailer for Totally Under Control, a new documentary featuring scientists, medical professionals, and other government officials excoriating the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, could not be more timely.

Totally Under Control, co-directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger, was filmed in secret over the last few months. In the trailer, several officials can be seen unmasking themselves to speak out about their observations of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response. 

« We the scientists knew what to do for the pandemic response. The plan was in front of us, but leadership would not do it. It is time to lay our careers on the line and push back, » says Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. « The scientists sounded the alarm every day. The U.S. government was doing nothing… I decided to break protocol. » 

Bright previously filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that he was demoted from a top position in the Department of Health and Human Services in April for speaking out against the administration’s response. He testified before Congress in May.

« The truth is that political leaders caused avoidable death and destruction, » another official says in the preview. 

Totally Under Control‘s title stems from Trump’s own claim about the disease in January, shortly before he reportedly privately told Bob Woodward that he knew the virus was « deadly stuff » while continuing to mislead the public about the dangers of the pandemic. 

To date, more than 7 million Americans, including the Trumps, have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The disease has killed more than 208,000 Americans

Totally Under Control will be released on-demand Tuesday, Oct. 13 and then on Hulu Tuesday, Oct. 20. 

1) Nature, source, date, author of the document :

A TV guide presenting a new documentary entitled Totally under Control which will be released on October 13th. The documentary was produced by 3 independent studios.

2) Historical context 

The covid crisis (215,000 casualties) and Trump’s running of the country in this context : he keeps minimizing the severity of the pandemic and claims that everything is under control. There is a deep political divide in the population over how he has managed the pandemic. The president continues to discourage social distancing and mask wearing, focusing on the economy.

3) Summary of the document.

The trailer : it shows images of the documentary and explains how it was shot (secretly with interviews of all people involved in the crisis among whom doctors who decided to speak up to warn the population). It analyses the handling of the crisis at 2 levels. From the medical point of view, doctors understood how dangerous the virus was and alerted the government. From the political point of view, Trump is mishandling the pandemic, lying, spreading fake information, blaming everyone and saying that everything is totally under control.

The article below the video : it presents the people who decided to react to Trump’s failure at handling the situation by speaking up with the example of a whistleblower Dr. Bright who was fired for testifying against Trump’s policy.

4) Point of view of the people involved :

– Trump who downplayed (= underestimate) the danger of the virus and blamed those who sounded the alarm.

– Some officials couldn’t go on pretending the pandemic was under control. Despite the threat, they spoke up.

5) What we learnt from the document and why the document was made.

The document is related to the theme: Public and individual liberties : It deals with the fundamental right to security and the possibility for an individal to denounce governmental failure (freedom of conscience).

Grammar time: Determiners

Complete the blanks with the correct determiners

1-……… whistleblowers should never be arrested.

2-………..whistleblower who was arrested was working in Iraq.

3-This organization helps …………… whistleblowers.

4-I have never been to ………. U.K.

5-…………. violence Chelsea Manning was subjected to in …………American newspapers is unacceptable.

6-………… free whistleblower is better than ……….. imprisoned one.

7- Was there …………. attorney / ……. laywer to defend ……….. Manning’s rights ?

8-I have never played ……. saxophone. As a hobby, I loved ………. tennis.

9-Manning has just finished writing ……….. statement he has asked ……… laywer to read.

10-What is at ………. work with whistleblowers is ……… respect of ……… freedom of expression.

Translate into English

1-Les gens se rendent compte qu’ils n’ont pas de libertés individuelles.

2-Les journaux qui acceptent de publier les documents qui ont fuité rendent un grand service à la société.

3-la liberté d’expression est un droit inaliénable.

4-la sécurité collective devrait être une priorité pour le gouvernement.

5-En 2016, le gouvernement français a mis en place le projet d’une base de données géante dont le but était de rassembler les données personnelles des citoyens français.

Key to exercise 1:

1. O 2. The 3. a 4. the 5. The / a 6. A / an 7. any / any / O 8. the / O 9. a /a 10. O / the / O

Key to exercise 2:

1. People realize that they have no individual freedom.

2. The newspapers that / which agree to publish the leaked documents do society a great service.

3. Freedom of expression is an inalienable right.

4. Collective security / Community safety should be a priority for the government.

5. In 2016, the French government set up the project of a giant database whose aim was to collect the personal data of French citizens / French citizens’ personal data.

Essai argumentatif: Does individual liberty matter less than national security?

Individual security matters more:

1- Modern, western liberal democracies exist to protect the rights of their citizens. If governments attack people’s liberty and privacy under the guise of keeping us secure, the it is betraying their very essence.

2- The risk of terrorism is often overvalued and invasive surveillance laws may be passed in full panic (cf Patriot Act after 9/11). People can be aesily manipulated.

3- Large scale surveillance is not needed to protect ourselves from terrorism.

4- We are taught that privacy invasion is necessary to keep us safe and so we take it on faith and accept « security theater », which is ineffective and whose budget could be spent on education or healthcare.

5- It is becoming easier and easier for governments and companies to get our personal data.

6- The right to privacy lies behind the 4th Amendment which bans unreasonable « search and seizure »

7- Government agencies may misuse their power over citizens.

8- Tighter security controls can be used to target particular ethnic and religious groups.

National security needs to be preserved:

1- A society (represented by a government) is a social contract which protects our rights but by signing this contract, we give up some of our rights to the government in order that we may be protected and sometimes that government may have to infringe on (= reduce) our other rights to protect us.

2- The Patriot Act is the reason why there have been so few attacks after 9/11.It is a way to remain vigilant.

3- Terrorism is much worse than everyday criminality. You need advanced weapons to prevent it.

4- The fact that security is not perfect doesn’t mean we have to abandon it.

5- « privacy » is not found in the US Constitution unlike « security » (« to secure the general welfare »)

6- Surveillance is the secret watching of suspects’ private activities ; the governement must stop attacks before they happen.

7- Tighter security controls at airports will help prevent attacks and loss of life.

Additional document

A social network which turns out to be a weapon

Depuis sa création, TikTok est perçu comme un énième réseau social créé pour divertir les adolescents. Mais à l’heure où ces derniers se politisent, l’application devient également un lieu d’activisme en ligne – au point de se voir menacée d’interdiction par Donald Trump aux États-Unis. Comment TikTok est-il devenu une arme politique ? Pour la génération Z, l’activisme se situe sur les réseaux sociaux. Exemple avec la campagne de Trump et le mouvement Black Lives Matter. Découvrez le reportage vidéo en V.O. et testez votre compréhension


1. The TikTok call to action was an attempt to … an event.

a) organize b) launch c) diminish

2. The six teenagers used … to publicize their cause.

a) TikTok b) Twitter c) Instagram

3. What did Jessica Rosario and others try to do in New York?

a) organize street protests b) get people to register as voters c) hold a political rally

4. Who was targetted by her digital toolkit?

a) the general public b) teenagers c) members of the State Senate

5. Who would find Twitch most useful during protests?

a) someone recording the events b) the organizers c) the police

6. What does Jessica Rosario say about phone calls and texting?

a) Texting is way more efficient. b) There can be a lot more content in a phone call. c) Phoning is such old technology

Answers : 1. c – 2. c – 3. b – 4. c – 5. a – 6. b