FBI Flashes Badge at Wikipedia, Ignores the Internet

FBI seal on Google

diggIf you were tasked with finding an image of the FBI's seal, where would you look? Likely, you'd head to Google or Bing, where a quick image search would return tens of thousands of results. But shhh, don't tell the FBI about those. Out of all the images of the seal sprayed across the Web, the FBI is faulting Wikipedia for displaying it, and even threatening legal action.

In July, the bureau wrote to the Wikimedia Foundation demanding that its flagship organization Wikipedia remove the image of the FBI seal from the bureau's entry on the site. "You can't use the FBI seal, by law, unless you have the permission of the FBI director," a bureau spokesman told The New York Times yesterday. The FBI claimed Wikipedia violated law on the proper use of official badges and insignia.

Thankfully, Wikipedia's not backing down. In a snappy response to the charges, Wikimedia general counsel Mike Godwin lays down the law, correcting the FBI's misinterpretations, citing precedent cases, and all around showing why you probably shouldn't mess with an encyclopedia. "Our inclusion of an image of the FBI Seal is in no way evidence of any 'intent to deceive,' nor is it an 'assertion of authority,'" fires Godwin, of a statute the FBI cited. "[The image is] widely available elsewhere, including on the Encyclopedia Britannica website, last I checked."

"While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it, the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not [your] aspirational version," he wrote.

Why is the bureau picking a fight with Wikipedia? It would be conspiratorial to suggest this is some response to the FBI's past problems with the site, but with such a poor case presented, a backlash against the FBI for attacking a non-profit open-source provider of knowledge should have been predictable.

After all, images of the FBI seal are available everywhere online—even on the FBI's own Web site.

FBI top website banner

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  • Paul deSousa

    From their website:
    "Our mission is to help protect you, your communities, and your businesses from the most dangerous threats facing our nation—from international and domestic terrorists to spies on U.S. soil…from cyber villains to corrupt government officials…from mobsters to violent gangs…from child predators to serial killers. Learn more here about our work with law enforcement and intelligence partners across the country and around the globe."

    They forgot to add: set a bad example for the use of resources, and feather the nests of government attorneys.



  • David Feldman

    When our company had its intellectual property misappropriated by a large multinational corporation we asked the FBI for help. Not interested. When foreign VCs tried to take over our company and steal our IP we again asked for help - sorry we're busy looking for Jimmy Hoffa's remains. When their IP is used? Look out - Elliot Ness is coming to the door with a battering ram.

  • Tom Harnish

    I'd be willing to bet some bureaucrat has mistaken wikipedia for wikileaks

  • desktoparchitecture

    For the FBI to be pointing a finger of shame at wikopedia they should remember that they do so with three fingers thusly pointing back at themselves