The Department of Justice, on behalf of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has threatened to criminally prosecute a novelty store owner for selling mugs and t-shirts that say, among other things, “Department of Homeland Stupidity” and “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.”
The novelty items are sold online at Zazzle.com, which is operated by merchant Dan McCall. The NSA and DHS sent “cease and desist” letters to Zazzle stating that the parody products violate statutes that protect their official seals from misuse.
The NSA and DHS, through the Department of Justice, are “threatening litigation and criminal prosecution if the parody designs weren’t immediately removed,” reported the government watchdog group Judicial Watch.
While the parody products, such as “NSA: Spying on you since 1952,” have been removed from Zazzle’s website, a federal complaint has been filed by Dan McCall against the DHS and NSA, claiming that the cease and desist directives violate his First Amendment rights.
“As the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland states, “This is an action for a judgment rejecting claims made in cease and desist letters that two government agencies sent to an online vendor of T-shirts, mugs and similar merchandise.
“(a) Contrary to the agencies’ claims, images created by a parodist to comment on the agencies by juxtaposing their names and official seals, or altered versions of their seals, with humorous and satirical words and images, do not violate federal statutes barring use of the agencies’ names and seals, as those statutes are construed to avoid conflict with the First Amendment.
“(b) If the statutes are not construed narrowly to permit such use of the agencies’ names and seals, application of those statutes to bar the speech violates the First Amendment.”
Commenting on the case, Judicial Watch said, “The two agencies at the center of this brouhaha most certainly have bigger fish to fry. So does the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency that has threatened to prosecute the mug and T-shirt creator.”