SEC Whistleblower Office Chief Stresses Importance of Anonymity

Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) whistleblowers may be able to breathe a little easier in the wake of recent statements made by the head of the SEC whistleblower program, Sean McKessy.  McKessy made clear in a recent interview with Law360 that protecting the anonymity of whistleblowers was among his office’s highest priorities.  ““If people feel like their identities are compromised, even after we’ve paid them, things can go terribly wrong — even if they get big pots of money — if they’re shunned as a whistleblower,” McKessy told Law360.

McKessy has paid the issue more than lip service.  Law360 reported that McKessy has conducted training sessions, visited regional offices, and led discussion panels, all in the effort of conveying to SEC personnel the importance of protecting the identity of whistleblowers.  McKessy stated that even when the agency shares information with other government agencies for the purposes of an investigation, it heavily redacts what it provides to those agencies, conveying only as much information as needed to allow the supporting agency to conduct its investigation.  Even in internal memos within the SEC whistleblower office, McKessy has stated a policy of “just tak[ing] the name out” whenever it is not necessary to identify the whistleblower, further demonstrating the extraordinary amount of care the SEC is taking to protect whistleblowers' identities.

The whistleblower program’s continued emphasis on anonymity is encouraging for SEC whistleblowers.  While some SEC whistleblowers may receive a remarkable windfall for their reports – just last month an anonymous whistleblower earned over $30 million for information he or she provided to the SEC – many will not.   Their ability to continue in their careers without the specter of retaliation is of paramount importance.  It is encouraging to see the SEC taking this issue seriously and taking serious steps to protect the identity of whistleblowers.