How often have we watched blockbuster movies where some of the main characters are labelled “informants”. Our thirst for information is insatiable, despite how easily we can access material at the click of a mouse. There is a big difference between accessing information on the net and getting information directly from an individual.
Perhaps you will ask yourself, “I can read and see what’s on internet, what more do I need? Correct, however an informant will usually have access to more than just information, but an extensive circle of other people, informant observers and interact on social level which we cannot do on internet. They add colour and movement to the picture.
Even today, there is no exact definition for the term ‘informant’. However, every government department has its own definition, basically it is the human being who provides information.
Looking at historical data, East Germany had almost 180K informants, mostly recruited by domestic intelligence agencies such as the Stasi (official name Ministerium für Staatsicherheit (German: “Ministry for State Security” due the fact that Stasi performed work outside of Eastern Germany borders).
Western government agencies also use informants extensively. According to Forbes (Adam Andrzejewski, 2021) United States agencies paid over 500 million US Dollars to informants while the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) still has over 18,000 active informants.
Utilising informants is not only the preserve of government agencies, they have been used by corporations around the world, particularly those in highly competitive industries such as military contracts, chemical or pharmaceutical, to name but a few.
Corporate informants are not only people who are working on behalf of competitor, they may also choose to provide information to the media as in Goodwin v United Kingdom (Savla, 1997).
Informants are often categorised with respect to their nature and motivation into:
Informant — anyone who provides and supplies information without the consent of the other party with the intent of malicious, personal or financial gain.
The recruitment of informants in this category by government agencies is usually regulated by legislation and acts of parliament.
Informer — any informant (except a person without any criminal record, background or association) who supplies information, whether for reward or not, on actual or anticipated criminal activities or those involved either directly or indirectly in such activities, where it is anticipated that the informant will provide information more than once.
Informants who work for some government bodies are usually registered under a pseudonym or nickname.