Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

NSA, Homeland Security withdraw their complaints against company’s parodies

We wrote in November about one Dan McCall of Minnesota, the operator of a Web site that sells “freedom products for liberty lovers.”

Shoppers at Liberty­ can buy humorous T-shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers and such with all manner of political slogans.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.


(Photo Courtesy of Paul Levy) - The National Security Agency was unhappy about a design that used its seal with words boasting that the agency is “The only part of government that actually listens.” The seal is a tweaked version - the official one doesn’t actually say “PEEPING WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING.”

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

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

A couple of months later, the Department of Homeland Security objected to a design with a version of the seal and the words “Department of Homeland Stupidity.” The agency’s letter 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.

The NSA, in an attachment to the agreement, said that the law it had cited in its letter to McCall, “does not prohibit the creation or sale of items intended to parody NSA where no such impression of [agency] approval, endorsement or authorization is conveyed.” The agency added that it “acknowledges that McCall’s designs were intended as parody.” No kidding.

The DHS attachment noted that its cease-and-desist letter to Zazzle cited a criminal statute that was not applicable to people making a “commentary about the agency” and that McCall’s designs did “not violate any of the statutes cited in the letter.”

“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.

Googled in translation

Try as we might — okay, we didn’t try that hard — we could not find out last week which Republican House members were traveling (with spouses) on the taxpayer dime to Asia this week with stops in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

The eight-member congressional delegation (codel) was led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), whose office declined requests to list which of his GOP colleagues were accompanying him on the trip.

But thanks to a report Tuesday from the Central News Agency in Taiwan, we now know the tightly held names. Our Chinese being a wee bit rusty, we appreciated the news agency’s identification of the lawmakers in letters we could read. But what exactly did the characters say outside those parenthetical lapses into English?

We asked Google Translate.

The “Xiluoaisi” — or Ed Royce as he’s known here — delegation was “led by a strong lineup,” CNA reported based on an official government announcement, including Republicans “Xixia Bo,” a.k.a. Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio); “Xiweiersen,” or Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.); and Rep. “Maise” Luke Messer (Ind.). There was also a Democrat we hadn’t known about — “Mr. Borda Luo,” or Del. Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) — and a Republican who defied translation, Rep. Randy Weber (Tex.).

The Foreign Affairs Ministry called the delegation “heavyweight, meaning very great, full of friendship and bipartisan congressional support,” according to Google’s translation of the CNA report.

This trip was Loop-recommended, despite far too many meetings over trade and China’s aggressive actions in its dispute with Japan over several uninhabited islands — with large undersea riches — in the East Asia Sea as well as other difficult policy issues.

It at least offered a chance to get out of arctic Washington over the weekend and it had the essential overnight in Hong Kong on the off chance maybe someone might want to do some shopping.

A pick for Prague

Andrew Schapiro, a top corporate lawyer who went to Harvard Law School with President Obama, has been tapped to be the next ambassador to the Czech Republic, news outlets there report, citing Czech Foreign Ministry sources.

Schapiro, whose mother was a Czech Holocaust refugee, was a law clerk for Judge Richard Posner on the U.S. Court of Appeals and for the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. He would replace Norman Eisen in the beautiful ambassador’s residence in Prague. (That’s where another former ambassador, the late Shirley Temple Black, also resided.) In addition to his big-time law practice, Schapiro has been pro bono counsel for the Sierra Club and the Innocence Project.

Eisen, who also went to law school with Obama and Schapiro, is reported to be packing his bags this summer. He’s been praised in the Czech press for revitalizing U.S.-Czech relations. (Probably because he had visited the country before his nomination?)

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