tyler butler

Homeland Security?

OK, this is ridiculous. The Department of Homeland Security can’t find anything better to do, apparently, than harass small business owners. Check out this Yahoo News story:

ST. HELENS, Ore. - So far as she knows, Pufferbelly Toys owner Stephanie Cox hasn’t been passing any state secrets to sinister foreign governments, or violating obscure clauses in the Patriot Act.

So she was taken aback by a mysterious phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to her small store in this quiet Columbia River town just north of Portland.

“I was shaking in my shoes,” Cox said of the September phone call. “My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I’m closed even for a day that would cause undue stress.”

When the two agents arrived at the store, the lead agent asked Cox whether she carried a toy called the Magic Cube, which he said was an illegal copy of the Rubik’s Cube, one of the most popular toys of all time.

He told her to remove the Magic Cube from her shelves, and he watched to make sure she complied.

After the agents left, Cox called the manufacturer of the Magic Cube, the Toysmith Group, which is based in Auburn, Wash. A representative told her that Rubik’s Cube patent had expired, and the Magic Cube did not infringe on the rival toy’s trademark.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said agents went to Pufferbelly based on a trademark infringement complaint filed in the agency’s intellectual property rights center in Washington, D.C.

“One of the things that our agency’s responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation’s financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications,” she said. Six weeks after her brush with Homeland Security, Cox told The Oregonian she is still bewildered by the experience.

“Aren’t there any terrorists out there?” she said.

I have several problems with this whole event. First of all, why is the “protection” of our nation’s economy the responsibility of the government at all, least of all the DHS? We’re supposed to be [relatively] free market, right? Second, why is someone from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office doing the commenting? This makes even less sense! Third, it’s a Rubik’s Cube for crying out loud! And the patent’s expired! Finally, wasn’t the DHS created to safeguard our country from terrorists? Even if terrorists were infringing on trademarks (which I seriously doubt they are), I’d still rather the DHS leave them alone if they can’t actually tell a terrorist from a small business owner.

On the other hand, had this happened to me I probably would have asked for some paperwork or something proving they had authority to do this, but then, we live in a culture of fear here in the US, so I can’t say I blame Ms. Cox for simply complying. She hadn’t done anything wrong, after all. What did she have to fear? (The answer is everything. Government sucks. And yes, I am paranoid.)