Although I confess to being baffled as to why grown-ups play online video games (at least until after they have read the entire Western canon), recently a grown-up (and a college professor at that) pitched a fit after the OFAC blocking software of Epic Games choked on his name and told him he was not allowed to open an account with them and play one of their video games. More fun probably than playing the video game (and pretending to be a buff warrior in possession of awesome weapons and spells) is unraveling what occurred next.
Muhammad Zakir Khan, an assistant professor at Broward College in Florida, tried to sign up for an account online with Epic Games in order to play something called “Paragon” (which sounds more like a dish detergent than a video game, but that’s another issue). His effort to create the account was refused, and he was informed that this was because of a match against the SDN List, something that Mr. Khan had never heard of, so, like any other online warrior, he took the battle to Twitter, tweeting:
@EpicGames My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.
Within a just a few hours, the CEO of Epic Games responded (via Twitter of course):
Sorry, this isn’t intended. We’re working to fix ASAP. Cause: Overly broad filter related to US trade restrictions.
Later, he tweeted how they thought they might fix the problem:
We’re working to figure this out. Ideally, not at signup, but by matching name and billing address at purchase time.
Obviously Epic deserves some credit for its efforts to take on OFAC and its SDN list, even though phaser energy guns and revivifying potions are of no use against either. Unfortunately, once there is a name match there is no simple automated solution to resolving the hit. In the case of Mr. Khan, having his address would have been useless because there is no address listed for the Mohammad Khan on the SDN List that caused the hit. Indeed, there is no single adequate way that one can automate resolving false hits. Computers may be able to drive cars, vacuum your living room, and play Jeopardy, but this is something that best practice requires be done by an actual human being.
But there is another point to be made here. Why on earth do we care at all whether terrorists and narcotics kingpins spend money to play online video games? In fact, wouldn’t we prefer that terrorists and drug dealers spend more time slaying imaginary dragons and enemies on their computers and less time doing what they do in the real world?