Spies with hurt feel­ings

The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency should bor­row a sense of hu­mor

The Washington Times Daily - - Editorial -

No so­ci­ety can be free un­less its cit­i­zens are com­fort­able enough to mock their gov­ern­ment. Despots are hu­mor­less lugs who pre­fer to toss court jesters into dun­geons un­til their japes are for­got­ten. It says a lot that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency can’t take a good-na­tured rib­bing. (Who de­serves it more?)

The Pub­lic Cit­i­zen Lit­i­ga­tion Group filed a fed­eral law­suit last week to pro­tect the First Amend­ment right of Min­nesota en­tre­pre­neur Dan McCall to sells shirts, hats and cof­fee mugs em­bla­zoned with slo­gans mak­ing fun of overzeal­ous bu­reau­cra­cies. One shirt dis­plays the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency logo with the motto, “Spy­ing On You Since 1952.” Another says “Peep­ing While You’re Sleep­ing” above the words “The NSA: The only part of gov­ern­ment that ac­tu­ally lis­tens.” Cof­fee mugs with “Depart­ment of Home­land Stu­pid­ity” are big sell­ers.

This is no laugh­ing mat­ter for Amer­ica’s thin-skinned snoops. Mr. McCall has re­ceived a fist­ful of cease-and-de­sist let­ters from gov­ern­ment lawyers ea­ger to cen­sor the clever smart alecks among us. Mr. McCall is ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Act of 1959, which pro­hibits use of “the words ‘ Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency,’ the ini­tials, ‘NSA,’ the seal of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, or any col­orable imi­ta­tion of such words ... in con­nec­tion with any mer­chan­dise, im­per­son­ation, so­lic­i­ta­tion, or com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity in a man­ner rea­son­ably cal­cu­lated to con­vey the im­pres­sion that such use is ap­proved, en­dorsed, or au­tho­rized by the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency.” Home­land Se­cu­rity says the par­ody items vi­o­late the law mak­ing it a crime to “mu­ti­late or al­ter the seal of any depart­ment or agency of the United States.”

Lawyers for the good guys point out the ob­vi­ous, that nov­elty items aren’t meant to be taken se­ri­ously. No rea­son­able per­son would be­lieve that the agen­cies them­selves pro­duce mer­chan­dise with such mes­sages, or that they are “ap­proved, en­dorsed or au­tho­rized” by the gov­ern­ment. “The agen­cies’ at­tempts to for­bid Mr. McCall from dis­play­ing and sell­ing his mer­chan­dise are in­con­sis­tent with the First Amend­ment,” says Paul Alan Levy, the Pub­lic Cit­i­zen lawyer han­dling the case. “It’s bad enough that th­ese agen­cies have us un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance; for­bid­ding cit­i­zens from crit­i­ciz­ing them is be­yond the pale.”

The courts have long pro­tected works of par­ody and satire from claims of trade­mark and copy­right in­fringe­ment. The gov­ern­ment should lighten up. The way to avoid be­ing the butt of hu­mor is to avoid de­serv­ing be­ing the butt of hu­mor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.