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An informant is a person who shares their special knowledge with others; it is not equivalent to a whistleblower ("scandal uncoverer") due to the informant activity and the passing on of information . In many areas informant is used neutrally, in politics it has a negative connotation.


An informant provides third parties with certain (services) benefits or benefits or information. This information usually represents insider knowledge that the informant has acquired through social interaction and that is not or only with difficulty accessible to outsiders.

In contrast to a spy , an informant is not a “paid employee” of the person who wants the information. He remains independent of his client and rather uses his insider knowledge to earn a little "extra income" or to secure other advantages or he even passes on his information out of idealism .

The consideration for the information is usually determined or negotiated individually by the informant. This is usually money . Such money has to be taxed in Germany: the flat rate for informants is ten percent. The “value” that the informant attaches to the information can depend on many factors. Urgency and explosiveness are factors that play a special role. Urgently needed information will also be particularly expensive. The same applies to information, the disclosure of which represents a high risk for the informant.

In the circles from which the informant gets his insider knowledge and brings it “outside”, he is referred to as a traitor or informer .

Police and secret services

Handover of the reward to an informant whose information led to the killing of two wanted terrorists in the Philippines

The informant here is someone who in an individual case - for a fee or free of charge - provides the police, customs or secret services with insider information about criminal offenses, political extremism or other information of interest to the relevant authority in return for an assurance of confidentiality. In Germany, the RiStBV contain a relevant definition in Annex D 2.1. If the informant is active on a regular basis , he is called an “ undercover agent . The use of informants takes place on the basis of the joint guidelines of the justice ministers / senators and the interior ministers / senators of the federal states on the use of informants as well as on the use of confidants ( undercover agents ) and undercover agents in the context of criminal prosecution , which in different versions are in force in the various countries.

The informant is assured of confidentiality by the public prosecutor's office or the police, but the public prosecutor's office usually does not know the identity of the informant. It may only be used if the clarification would otherwise be futile or significantly more difficult. Confidentiality may only be guaranteed if the informant suffers considerable disadvantages or is endangered for the law enforcement authorities as a result of his activities.


An informant in the journalistic field is similar to a political informant. For the journalist it is a source of information in an area in which the journalist himself can find difficult research . According to § 53  Abs. 1 Nr. 5  StPO " persons who participate or have participated professionally in the preparation, production or distribution of printed works, radio broadcasts, film reports or information and communication services serving to inform or form opinions " have the right to refuse to testify (sources - or protection of informants). The European Court of Human Rights regards the protection of journalistic sources as a basic requirement for freedom of the press .

As informants, unlike politicians, are not used by journalists to increase their personal power but (ideally) to educate the public, they do not have a negative image.


An informant (also responsible person is called) as speaker of a language or a dialect source for linguistic research and findings. Most of the time an informant is a native speaker of the relevant language or dialect. Linguists are often their own informants for their own mother tongue. Information is recorded orally or in writing, or recorded with tapes or on film or video. The help of numerous informants enabled the development of the language atlas .

Informants are also a valuable aid for more general research. A member of the Hopi (an Indian tribe) helped Benjamin Whorf as an informant in his language research. The study of the Hopi language was one of the foundations for the further development of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis .


Web links

Commons : Informants  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Informant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Kieber, the informant Hamburger Abendblatt, February 25, 2008
  2. Goodwin ./. United Kingdom , decision of the European Court of Justice of March 27, 1996, No. 17488/90
  3. Website with further information on the book Protection of Informants