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Thursday, April 20, 2006


The "no-buy" list: beware of terrorists with treadmills

If you thought (as I did) that the "no-fly" list only prevented people from flying, it turns out you were wrong:
When [a Roseville couple] attempted to buy a treadmill on a financing plan, a Wells Fargo representative told the salesperson that the couple would have to wait 72 hours while they were investigated. The reason? The husband's first name was Hussein. He is a U.S. citizen who has lived here more than 30 years, but because others named Hussein -- like Saddam -- are on the [OFAC] list, he had to be "cleared."

Similarly, a Chicago resident discovered the watch-list when he went to an auto dealership to purchase a used car. At the top of his credit report, a salesman noticed a reference to an "OFAC search" -- followed by the names of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden. Apparently, the customer's last name, Muhammad -- one of the most common names in the world -- had triggered false matches to the watch-list, because the individuals named on the credit report had Muhammad as their middle name.

One wonders what would have happened had this man applied for a job or sought to rent an apartment using the same credit report. How many nervous employers or landlords would have simply turned him down, scared off by the alarming reference to terrorists? The prospect of lost opportunities for jobs or homes is very real, as more employers and landlords begin checking not just credit reports but also the OFAC list itself -- most with very little understanding of what the list means.

Why are companies screening people against the list? While some, like financial institutions, are required to do so by the government, most businesses face no such requirement. But because the law prohibits anyone in the United States from doing business with people on the list, theoretically any company or individual could be fined for a transaction with a blacklisted person.
There are 5,000 people on the list. Considering that the majority of people imprisoned in Guantanamo are there for bogus reasons, it seems likely 90% are more of the people on this list are there for no good reason, either. Note that the OFAC list in question is of people "believed to be associated with terrorism." Note the words "believed," meaning these people haven't even been charged with any crime, nevertheless convicted, and the word "associated," which is as nebulous as it gets. Yet not only are they penalized, but so are hundreds of thousands of other people, whose names just happen to be similar.

Civil rights, anyone? Logic, anyone?

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