Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, introduced the Department of Homeland Security Seal Protection Act which bolsters the ability of the Department to prevent or pursue action against individuals, organizations, or businesses that fraudulently use the DHS seal to misrepresent endorsement or approval by the Department and harm the public. The DHS seal signifies the authoritativeness of the Federal government’s critical homeland security mission to items or documents to which it is affixed. Under current law, it lacks specific statutory protections conferred to the seals of other Federal departments and agencies.
Examples of misappropriation of the DHS seal include a tornado shelter manufacturer using the seal to endorse its products, a website using the seal to advertise medical examinations, and online retailers selling face masks displaying the seal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the recent infiltration of the Secret Service by individuals impersonating DHS officers, it is clear the Department needs express authority to protect its seal so it can pursue action against those who unlawfully misappropriate it. With its diverse national security mission, DHS needs the protections that other Federal departments and agencies have – and should have had when the Department was created in 2003. I thank the Department for proposing this legislation and I look forward to the Committee considering it later this week.”
H.R. 7778, the “Department of Homeland Security Seal Protection Act” As Introduced by Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)
A Federal department or agency’s official logo and seal signifies the authoritativeness of the item or document to which it is affixed. Since June 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has maintained a seal to symbolize its mission; it is incorporated in DHS uniforms and equipment as well as the branding of DHS components. Currently, there are provisions of law that generally prohibit the misappropriation or exploitation of this DHS symbol. However, the DHS seal lacks specific statutory protections like the seals of other Federal departments and agencies.
DHS has identified substantial misuse of its seal undermining the Department’s core values of integrity, vigilance, and respect. Individuals have used the seal to impersonate DHS officers and agents to engage in crimes, and businesses have used it to convey the impression that the Department endorses their products or services to seek material gain. The risks stemming from impersonators were demonstrated in April 2022, when Federal prosecutors charged two individuals for impersonating undercover DHS agents to gain the trust of officers within the U.S. Secret Service. According to court records, “the men were not merely playing dress-up” but “engaged in conduct that represented a serious threat to the community, compromised the operations of a federal law enforcement agency, and created a potential risk to national security.”
Businesses misrepresenting endorsement or approval by DHS of products and services include a tornado shelter manufacturer using the seal to endorse its products, a third-party website using the seal to advertise medical examinations, and online retailers selling face masks displaying the seal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To bolster the legal protections for the DHS Seal against misappropriation and exploitation, Chairman Thompson introduced the Department of Homeland Security Seal Protection Act to grant the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to prevent or pursue action against individuals, organizations, or businesses that fraudulently use the DHS seal or colorable imitations to misrepresent endorsement or approval by the Department and harm the public. On August 11, 2021, DHS submitted a legislative proposal to Congress to enhance the protection of DHS’ seal as a part of a larger trademark and licensing package in response to challenges it has encountered when relying upon the general seal protection statute.
Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security Seal Protection Act would amend the Homeland Security Act to to prohibit the knowing use of the DHS seal or colorable imitation of the seal in a way that gives the false impression that DHS has authorized such use unless authorized, in writing, to do so by the DHS Secretary. It clarifies that a DHS officer or employee engaged in official duties would not be affected and that current lawful users of designs in existence at the time of enactment would be grandfathered.