Wednesday, 30 March 2016
How does your bank know your dog's not a terrorist?
I was interviewed by Monte Francis of KTVU (Channel 2) News last week to help make sense out of what happened to Bruce Francis, a disabled San Francisco man whose online request to send a check to pay the person who walks his service dog was refused by Chase Bank.
The memo line on the check read, "for Dash", Dash being the name of Mr. Francis' dog. Apparently the robots used by Chase to profile and score each transaction and decide whether to allow customers to make payments flagged the name of his dog as vaguely similar to "Daesh", one of several English transliterations of a crude phonetic rendering of an Arabic acronym for a name sometimes applied to -- although rejected and denounced by -- one grouping of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
As Mr. Francis told KTVU, stopping payment of any check identified on the memo line as being "for ISIS" would amount to, "Stopping the world's stupidest terrorist."
But who knew that banks had such things as "robots used to profile and score each transaction and decide whether to allow customers to make payments"?
Mr. Francis' rejected attempt to pay his dog-walker is only the tip of the iceberg of a larger problem of overreach and injustice by OFAC -- one of the largest and least transparent or accountable Federal law enforcement agencies that most people in the USA have never heard of -- and a yet larger problem of outsourced surveillance, algorithmic profiling, and control (like that of airline reservations and travel, but affecting other aspects of our lives) by what the ACLU has aptly labeled the "Surveillance-Industrial Complex" of private and commercial actors conscripted by government carrots and sticks.
What happened with Dash the dog was part of a familiar and problematic pattern. The only thing really unusual was that neither Mr. Francis not his dog-walker (nor Dash the dog, so far as I know) are Muslims. I've had to deal with OFAC myself, including when my bank account was (wrongly, and possibly illegally) frozen, and I couldn't deposit my paychecks or pay my bills, after I tried to check my Schwab Bank balance for an IP address in Ssyria where I was (legally) travelling, and when OFAC prohibited customers of the travel agency where I was working from either using or obtaining refunds for tickets they had purchased on an airline in Peru, one of whose owners was later designated a "drug kingpin, thus effectively forcing these would-be travellers (who were never accused of any wrongdoing themselves) to forfeit the value of their tickets and allowing the alleged "drug kingpin" to keep their money as an OFAC windfall, without having to provide them with transportation.Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 30 March 2016, 10:56 (10:56 AM) | TrackBack (0)