The OFAC List: How a Treasury Department Terrorist Watchlist Ensnares Everyday Consumers
An increasing number of private businesses, such as banks, mortgage companies, car dealerships, health insurers, landlords, and employers, now check the names of customers or applicants against a U.S. Treasury Department terrorist list. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list of suspected terrorists, drug traffickers, and other “specially designated nationals” runs over 250 pages long and includes more than 6,000 names. Many Americans who are not on the list face stigma as well as delayed or denied consumer transactions solely because their names are similar to others who are designated. The government has encouraged a wide range of private businesses to screen against the list, resulting in difficulties for ordinary people even where there is no discernible relationship to national security. Moreover, there are few safeguards – such as training requirements for businesses, complaint mechanisms for individuals, or other avenues for redress – to protect against such arbitrary screening. The government should take immediate measures to curb OFAC screening abuses and prevent the practice from becoming an even greater menace to civil rights.