The Washington Post reported that American citizens are routinely being denied bank accounts, mortgages, and car loans because of similarities of their names to those on terrorist watch lists.
After 9/11, President Bush signed an executive order which prohibits businesses from conducting business with people who are suspected terrorists. The watch list contains over 3,000 names and groups. The law is written so broadly as to encompass, theoretically, a movie theatre that sells a ticket to a person on the terrorist watch list; violators can receive up to $10 million in fines and 30 years in prison.
The three main credit bureaus have attached warnings to the names of people who are close matches – or even approximations – of those on the list. It does not cross-reference with possible birthdays and attempt to remove false positives. As a result, many American citizens (although there are few of them on the lists) cannot conduct business. The credit bureaus claim that they have no control over how other financial institutions may use that information. Nevertheless, it is entirely irrational to expect that one can create a large banner that says, “OFAC Suspected Terrorist” and believe that it will not adversely effect that person’s life.
The big question, missed by the Washington Post, is why credit bureaus are given that much control over people’s information, without repercussion. Credit bureaus accumulate an enormous (and frightening) amount of information about Americans, yet they claim that they cannot distinguish between 14-year-old terrorists and 58-year-old Americans. A name, birthday, and SSN should be enough to establish that a person is not, similarity in names aside, a potential terrorist; yet, people have an impossible time of clearing their names and suffer in the meantime.