More American consumers have gotten caught up in a special brand of watchlist purgatory because their names are similar to ones on OFAC’s list of “specially designated nationals,” according to e-mails and other documents released under court order yesterday. By law, businesses are barred from conducting transactions with anyone on the list. Yesterday’s court-ordered release of documents to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, offers a window into the kinds of disruptions suffered by those ensnared in the process, as well as the difficulty of clearing their names.
“OFAC’s list of designated individuals and entities is a powerful tool that disrupts financial flows to terrorists, narcotics traffickers and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” Treasury spokesman John Rankin said. “This vigilance has an important deterrent effect and shines a light on illicit conduct.”
But Thomas R. Burke, lead counsel in the group’s FOIA case, said he suspected the watchlist is causing problems for many more people than revealed by the cases so far. Moreover, he asserted, “There isn’t a program [of redress]. There isn’t an ombudsman. There isn’t a procedure to help consumers clear their names.”
So, you can get on the list without doing anything wrong and it can be very difficult to get your name off the list (and having your name on the list means there are many things you will not be able to do: get loans, buy cars, set up a Paypal account, …). These lists are not only in the US.
Henry from Crooked Timber notes that a person or group doesn’t have to be charged with anything to be put on the list, so if someone thinks you might be connected to terrorists you might be put on the list. He notes that this is setting up a potential crisis for the EU, since this violates part of the German constitution which can’t be amended in any way (it was written by the US and allies).
A commenter notes that this list is actually better than some of the others (such as the no fly list) since the names on the list are public (yay, my name isn’t on it).