Legal Issues

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

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.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

3 replies on “Keeping you safe from the terrorists, Part 2”

I just combed through all 267 PDF’d pages. I think the tag cloud might be slightly misleading. There are a LOT of Arabic and Eastern European type names and organizations on that list. My first reaction was that the Hispanic/Latino names are barred due to alleged connections to the drug & weapons cartels out of South America and Mexico. Then something else caught my eye – there are about 4 or 5 pages, starting around p 232 in the PDF, that list nothing but web sites. In particular, Cuban promotional web sites. Seriously. It is asking us to avoid sites that promote Hemingway in Cuba, tourism in Cuba, ecotourism in Cuba, shopping in Cuba, and of course, a cigar super store online. Those evil evil Cigar folks … So Cuba = bad might also be the source of the Spanish names.

I’ll agree it seems odd, but the cloud IS the top 100 results for ALL individual names…all 1955 of them. I ignored organizations, corporations, etc…I was only interested in people. Still seems odd to me.

It’s because people with that hot Latin blood are liable to do ANYTHING at any given moment. They flip out almost as often as ninja. It’s true. Miami Vice taught me so when I was but a child in the villages of Cincinnati.


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