The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps close tabs on the image you see over director Robert Mueller's shoulder — the official FBI seal. Which is why it has threatened the online encyclopedia Wikipedia with criminal prosecution if it doesn't remove the image of the seal that it uses to illustrate the FBI's Wikipedia entry.
As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the FBI's deputy general counsel actually sent a letter to Wikipedia [pdf] late last month demanding that the site take down a high-resolution rendering of the seal "because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations" of federal restrictions on the use of the image. Indeed, it is a federal crime to "manufactur[e], sel[l], or posses[s] any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States." And according to the FBI's crack legal team, posting an image of the seal as illustration of an encyclopedia entry constitutes manufacturing, selling, or possessing such an insignia. (Maybe they confused Wikipedia with the villainous WikiLeaks?)
[Why is the FBI picking a fight?]
Wikipedia's lawyers clearly had fun with the request [pdf], particularly because the bureau, in citing federal law, conveniently omitted the words "badge" and "identification card," apparently to make it seem like the law simply governed images as opposed to fake credentials. "While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it," the site's lawyers wrote, "the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version ... that you forwarded to us." The site went on to politely decline the request and indicate it would gladly see the feds in court: "Badges and identification cards are physical manifestations that may be used by a possessor to invoke the authority of the federal government. An encyclopedia article is not."
If the FBI is concerned about the proliferation of digital reproductions of its seal online — which, as a simple Google image search will confirm, is indeed rampant — they might want to stop posting high-resolution images of it all over their website. And if they're concerned about counterfeit badges, they should also stop posting close-up photos for fakers to crib from.
To pick a fight with Wikipedia, FBI must be really bored
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