NSA will ‘keep peeping while you’re sleeping’


A design the NSA probably didn’t want to see on T-shirts and mugs.
(Image provided by Public Citizen)

We wrote in November about one Dan McCall of Minnesota, operator of LibertyManiacs.com, which sells “Freedom products for liberty lovers.” These are  humorous T-shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers and such with all manner of political slogans.

Seems the National Security Agency was unhappy about a design that  used its official seal with the words “Spying on you since 1952.” And then there’s the design boasting that the agency is “The only part of government that actually listens.” The seal is altered a little — the official one doesn’t say “PEEPING WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING.”

So the agency notified Zazzle.com, which produced the items for McCall, that it was illegal to use the NSA name or seal that way.

The folks at the Department of Homeland Security weighed in a couple of months later with a letter objecting to a design with a version of the seal and the words “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”  DHS alluded to potential criminal violations. 

Naturally, McCall contacted Public Citizen and sued, saying the parodies of NSA listening and DHS stupidity are protected under the First Amendment. He demanded that the agencies back off.

And back off they did  Tuesday, in a settlement filed in federal court in Maryland, with both agencies agreeing to withdraw their letters.

“NSA and DHS both recognized that they’d messed up and they’ve done the right thing and recognized the use of their name and seal  are protected for purposes of commentary,” or, in this case, parody, said Public Citizen lawyer Paul Levy.

We wondered back in November who’d laugh last. Now we know.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.



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Anne Bartlett · February 14, 2014

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