Epic Games Blocks Muslim Professor Because His Name Looked Like a Terrorist's

Blame it on an obscure Treasury watch list.

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Outside of video games, Broward College speech professor Muhammad “Zakir” Khan has neither the experience nor the inclination to blow anyone up. Unfortunately, this is something he’s had to explain more than once since Sunday night.

The trouble started when Khan — who also happens to be executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Project database for law enforcement — tried to sign up for a beta test of Epic Games’ upcoming shooter, Paragon. When he entered his name, the screen froze.

Here’s the message Khan received:

Epic Games

The “Specially Designated Nationals list” is a little-recognized operation of the equally obscure Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is part of the U.S. Treasury Department, and probably the first time you’ve see a federal agency name-checked in a video game opener since the FBI’s arcade-era warning that “Winners Don’t Use Drugs”.

What it boils down to is a database of criminals operating in the United States.

Khan’s name is not unique, which is partially why he goes by “Zakir” for professional work, so it’s to be expected that he matches four names in the sanctions database. However, what he doesn’t share with these fellow Khans is a residence, as none are even listed in Florida.

Khan was understandably upset, posting this screenshot to Twitter:

“I was surprised when it happened. I was surprised that they were so irresponsible in the way they administered their compliance with the list. I’ve never been blocked from other competitors platforms like Blizzard, Steam, and Origin,” Khan told Boing Boing. “For a company located in the Research Triangle where there are so many Muslims living, one would expect at least one programmer would stop and think about how they were administering their system.”

To his credit, Epic founder Tim Sweeney then jumped online to apologize to Khan, blaming the mix up on U.S. trade restrictions, with a database of names updated when the Treasury “circulates a new list of foreign commerce restrictions.” The filter is supposedly now upgraded to block users only if their name and combination billing address are both flagged.

And while it’s great that Epic is fixing the issue now, it doesn’t answer the question of why it’s even running these names to begin with. As Motherboard’s Rachel Pick noted, even banks aren’t legally bound to operate under any Office of Foreign Asset Control compliance programs, it just behooves them to in the chance that it comes out a terrorist was using their services. Maybe Epic’s decision to screen was based on a largely bullshit rumor that ISIS is training on video game shooters? If it really wants to avoid a PR nightmare, not feeding into Islamophobia would be a good start.

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