November 1 2013
Vicki E. Alger
National security is no laughing matter. That’s why the NSA has been awfully busy spying on us as well as our allies abroad and is now tackling a terrifying emerging threat: T-shirts.
Back in 2011 the NSA, along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sent cease-and-desist letters to a Minnesota T-shirt manufacturer Dan McCall for the high crime and misdemeanor of mocking them. Some examples appearing on his T-shirts, as well as mugs, and other novelty items, include “Department of Homeland Stupidity,” “The NSA: The only part of the government that actually listens,” and “Spying on you since 1952.” As the Daily Caller reports, the NSA’s rationale is a stretch:
The products are in violation of the National Security Agency Act of 1959, which includes a broad ban on the use of the words National Security Agency, the letters “NSA,” or “any colorable imitation of such words,” on any product which is “in a manner reasonably calculated to convey the impression that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the National Security Agency,” without the express permission of the agency itself.
In other words, a coffee mug decorated with a parodied NSA seal along with a slogan such as “Peeping While You’re Sleeping” might be mistaken for official federal government gear.
Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who’s suing the NSA, boiled down the intricacies of trademark law this way:
“English law uses an analogy” for trademark issues, Levy told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “of a moron in a rush. I would say even a moron in a rush would not think that these seals as parodied by my client were sponsored by the NSA or the DHS.”
One would think that government bureaucracies charged with safeguarding national security would have better things to do than sue someone because they’re expressing themselves--as is their right under the First Amendment.