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FBI Tells Wikipedia To Remove Its Seal, Wikipedia Says It Would Rather Not

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FBI logo 2010

Wikileaks may have garnered a lot of attention from national security departments recently, but the FBI is apparently more concerned with another, more visible Wiki. In a July 22nd letter (PDF) addressed to Wikipedia, the Bureau threatened the site with legal action unless it removes the FBI seal from its page. FBI deputy general counsel David Larson justified the request by citing a specific U.S. law that prohibits the duplication of any official “insignia” without due permission. As Larson claims, “The inclusion of a high quality graphic of the FBI seal on Wikipedia is particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting” reproduction of the insignia.

In response, the Wikimedia Foundation’s general counsel Mike Godwin called the FBI’s interpretation of the insignia law “idiosyncratic” and “more importantly, incorrect.” According to Wikipedia, the FBI ignored the most salient part of the U.S. code, which defines an insignia as “any badge, identification card, or other insignia.”

“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,” Godwin’s letter reads (PDF). “The use of the image on Wikipedia is not for the purpose of deception or falsely to represent anyone as an agent of the federal government.” Wikipedia went on to say that it’s prepared to battle in court, should the FBI make good on its threat.

Godwin also points out that Wikipedia isn’t the only place where you can find the FBI’s vaunted seal, as it’s also reproduced on the Bureau’s online entry on Encyclopedia Britannica. And, now that the FBI has drawn more media attention to its insignia, its seal has already been printed across various news outlets — all of whom, by the FBI’s reasoning, are now evildoers. No one, then, seems to be taking the FBI very seriously, and nor should they. It’s obvious that no reasonable human being would ever attempt to deceive the FBI with a Wikipedia print-out. It’s still unclear what the FBI’s intention was, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t aiming for the kind of public embarrassment it’s suffered thus far

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