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US terrorist watchlist flags 'ordinary people' in error

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An increasing number of US businesses are screening their customers against a US Treasury watchlist of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers, resulting in citizens with names similar to those on the list being denied services, according to a new report.

The report, released Tuesday by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), says that the list of "specifically designated nationals" (SDNs) kept by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US Treasury Department has resulted in "stigma as well as delayed or denied consumer transactions" for "ordinary people even where there is no discernible relationship to national security."

In recent years, a growing number of Americans have endured stigma and lost opportunities in ordinary consumer settings because their names are mistakenly flagged as being on a terrorist list. This list of suspected terrorists, narcotics traffickers, and other "specially designated nationals" is maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and now includes over 6,000 names. Financial institutions, credit bureaus, charities, car dealerships, health insurers, landlords, and employers are now checking names against the list before they open an account, close a sale, rent an apartment, or offer a job.

Few people in the United States are actually on the list. But because many names on the OFAC list are common Muslim or Latino names - such as "Mohammed Ali" or "Carlos Sanchez" - people in this country with similar names are increasingly getting snagged. Even a shared first or middle name, including some of the most common names in the world, can lead to consumer transactions being denied or delayed. Moreover, at a time when Muslims, Arabs, and immigrants in the United States are already subject to prejudice and suspicion, it is hardly surprising that individuals from these vulnerable communities encounter problems from OFAC list misidentification.

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