Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 08:39 GMT
Time to stand up and be counted?
David Shayler, the former spy who has avoided being extradited from Paris back to the UK to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, may not be feeling like a role model.
And it may be many years - if ever - before he is allowed back into the UK without being arrested for alleging, among other things, an MI5 plot to kill Colonel Gadaffi.
Mr Shayler denies he is a traitor, claiming instead he is just blowing the whistle on inefficiency and bureaucracy in the Secret Services.
But things are about to swing dramatically in favour of whistleblowers.
UK in front
The irony is that while the UK is acting against Mr Shayler, it is about to introduce what has been described as the world's most far-reaching legal protection for whistle-blowers.
Next month, the Public Interest Disclosure Act will come into effect. Unusually for the UK, which normally comes in for criticism for being obsessed with secrecy, the protection is much wider than in many other countries, including America.
Key elements of the new law:
The law also deals with cases where employers put "gagging clauses" on former workers as part of a pay-off deal. People who have left their job in these circumstances will be free to disclose wrongdoing without jeopardising their settlement.
It also introduces a public interest defence for people facing disciplinary action under the Official Secrets Act.
For instance, an inquiry into the 1987 sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise outside Zeebrugge harbour found that workers had warned five times of their concerns about the bow doors being left open. The warnings were not heeded, and 193 people died.
The thinking goes that this and other incidents including the Clapham rail crash, the spread of BSE among cattle, even the collapse of Barings Bank, could have been prevented if people had felt more confident about publicly voicing their worries.
The Department of Trade and Industry is expected to inform employers and workers of the new laws early in the New Year.
Just in case employers should think the new legislation is hostile to them, they should consider this: whistleblowing can be good for their wealth.
A report by the Audit Commission published last month urged local authorities to establish systems for would-be whistleblowers to come forward. One council discovered that it had lost £750,000 through "ghost pensioners" - 18 fictional former employees who were collecting pensions despite not existing. The scam was brought to light by a whistleblower.
So if anyone should fancy following David Shayler's example, it might be a good idea to wait until the New Year, with just one proviso: the law does not apply to spies.