Daily Archives: April 10, 2007

Keeping you safe from the terrorists, Part 2

BoingBoing reported today that the US Treasury Department has begun circulating a 250 page list of names of people who MIGHT BE related in some way to terrorism. Not that they are, or have been convicted, or charged with a crime or any of the things that due process might bring. Just a list of thousands of names (1955 names of individuals, by my count, but many more businesses) that, according to BoingBoing:

If your name could conceivably be bent to fit that list, get ready to spend a long, hard time convincing some terrified bureaucrat that you’re not actually Saddam Hussein’s deposed lieutenant, snuck into America to buy a Toyota.

As the Washington Post describes:

Yet anyone who does business with a person or group on the list risks penalties of up to $10 million and 10 to 30 years in prison, a powerful incentive for businesses to comply. The law’s scope is so broad and guidance so limited that some businesses would rather deny a transaction than risk criminal penalties, the report finds.

“The law is ridiculous,” said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md., who advises car dealers to use the list to avoid penalties. “It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who’s on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law.”

Bruce Schneier, as always, chimes in with some reason:

This is the same problem as the no-fly list, only in a larger context. And it’s no way to combat terrorism. Thankfully, many businesses don’t know to check this list and people whose names are similar to suspected terrorists’ can still lead mostly normal lives. But the trend here is not good.

Thankfully, the Treasury has put the list (dubbed in typical government jargon-talk as the Specially Designated Nationals list) online in multiple formats. So I grabbed it, and started looking. The list of individual names seemed odd to me as I started reading them, so I decided to do what I always do when I want to visualize a text list…off to TagCrowd!

created at TagCrowd.com

This cloud is just the top 100 names of individuals from the SDN list…take the names, do a frequency count, rank the top 100, and size them according to number of times they appear.

So what do we notice here? The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming number of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino names, as compared to, oh….Iraqi. You know, the people with whom we are at war.

Anyone have any guesses as to why there are so many Hispanic names listed? After initially being boggled and outraged at the way the list is being used, now I’m just confused by the contents of it.