When You're the Enemy of Business
The Customer Is Always Suspect
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, March 27, 2007
How many of those Ground Zero names would be flagged as suspect on the government's terrorist watch list?
A database isn't mere information. It's a weapon. Create a database, and you're essentially arming whoever gets to use it. Create a national, public database, and allow businesses to use it, and you've created a monster anathema to "security." From the Post:
Private businesses such as rental and mortgage companies and car dealers are checking the names of customers against a list of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers made publicly available by the Treasury Department, sometimes denying services to ordinary people whose names are similar to those on the list. The Office of Foreign Asset Control's list of "specially designated nationals" has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.
The report, available here, notes that it may not matter what your full name may be "because computerized programs used by businesses to screen individuals may flag even partial name matches." So you could still be flagged based on a middle name or a first or last name alone. The following individuals share part of their name with a person on the Office of Foreign Assets Control list:
- Barack Hussein Obama
- Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi
- Alberto Gonzales
- Jennifer Lopez
- Paula Abdul
- Muhammad Ali
- George Lucas
- Cameron Diaz
Impossible matches? Here's one story from the report. Tom and Nanci Kubbany were buying a home on California's redwood coast. They lined up a mortgage company. Then their calls stopped being returned. Why? Tom Kubbany, born in Michigan, has a middle name: Hassan. It's a very common name among Arabs. It's also Saddam Hussein's son's name. So Tom was automatically linked to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and his mortgage application flagged and denied. "It was surreal," Tom Kubbany told a local television station in 2006. "It's like everything stopped. Everything was in slow motion for a few seconds. Like, wait a minute, this is silly, this is a joke, you know." Except that it isn't. This is how government is doing business. And now it's how business is doing business. The report is full of similar stories, including that of a couple from Roseville, California, out buying a treadmill (a treadmill!). But the husband's first name was "Hussein." So Wells Fargo held up approval of their financing pending a three-day investigation, because the name matched... and so on. The Wells Fargo representative went so far as to say that the scrutiny was necessary "because of Saddam Hussein." Had she been literate, she might have mentioned Kafka, too.
I, of course, am on the terrorist watch list, too. At least my first name is, because it matches that of a certain Pierre Boileau, of 1078 Rue Champigny, Quebec, who appears on the list for having had some dealings with Cuba.
Interested in the Treasury Department's terrorist watch list? It's all here.