Why Is the FBI Picking a Fight with Wikipedia?

Displaying the agency's seal is apparently a big deal

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In an unusual confrontation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is demanding that Wikipedia remove the agency's seal from the site's FBI entry page. In July, the Feds sent a stern warning to the nonprofit site saying "Failure to comply may result in further legal action." Explaining the agency's decision, an FBI spokesman told The New York Times "You can’t use the F.B.I. seal, by law, unless you have the permission of the F.B.I. director."

It was a curious demand since many sites, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, use the seal. In response, Wikipedia sent the agency this testy rejoinder:

"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 the aspirational version” that the F.B.I. had provided.

Meanwhile, no one knows why the Feds felt like this was a priority:

  • Weird Call by the Feds, writes Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing: "The part that's hard to understand is why the FBI would seek to abuse the law in such petulant fashion, knowing that it will be subject to public ridicule for its actions."
  • Beats Me, writes Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway: "In looking at the law, I can see a reading going to either side.  However, it does seem to be more oriented towards either stopping counterfeit badges and/or people making money by making duplicates. It does not appear to be oriented toward stopping an informational outlet from publishing such information. At a minimum, I have to agree with the following." He then cites Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who says “I have to believe the F.B.I. has better things to do than this.”
  • Did the Feds Confuse Wikipedia with Wikileaks?  Robert Quigley at Geekosystem points to a theory by a Reddit commenter who "speculates that the FBI got Wikipedia confused with Wikileaks and was trying to turn up the heat." In the same thread, a fellow commenter applauds "I'd bet money that there's more truth to that theory than anyone is willing to give credit."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.