We've been hearing for years that private list-checking services such as Thomson Reuters' WorldCheck were riddled with errors and were perhaps a major driver of the bank de-risking problem. Muslim charities with no connection to terrorism, the rumors held, were somehow finding themselves on these programs, leading banks to terminate long-held client relationships.
Unfortunately, those rumors turned out to be true, and the truth is even worse than we'd imagined. A February 4 article in Vice News, the product of a journalist investigation, revealed that World-Check has been secretly giving individuals and organizations a "terrorist" designation without any evidence of investigations of wrongdoing, much less charges filed or guilt determined.
Among the unfortunate victims of this overzealous campaign are "major charities" and the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Nihad Awad, one of a select group of American Muslim leaders invited to join former U.S. President George W. Bush in a press conference condemning the 9/11 attacks. If they were actually doing their homework, you'd think World-Check would have realized there were a few mistakes.
World-Check is used by more than 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies, and top law firms. These designations by a private company, in other words, can and have resulted in warrantless de-banking, employment denials, and even subsequent listing in government agency databases.
For each terrorism profile included in World-Check's database, it includes a list of the sources it uses to create the profile. "Some have been created solely from allegations written on conservative blogs, Islamophobic websites and political organizations," the article states. It goes on to explain that the service does not "hold lists of approved sources for risk-based information or allegations about an individual entity. Both the choice of sources and the designation" are at the disretion of the employees who create the profiles. Fantastic. Some kid straight out of college could ruin your life. You'd think someone would have figured out by now that this could be a problem.
Furthermore, there appears to be no way to successfully challenge a World-Check terrorist designation. That's assuming you even know you're on the list. Banks aren't legally obligated to tell their clients why their accounts have been closed, and World-Check binds its users to secrecy (wonder why?). Now that the perverbial cat is out of the bag, World-Check has some explaining to do. And a legal team to assemble, we're guessing.
Upon learning that they've been designated as "terrorist" by World-Check, numerous individuals and organizations, none of whom has ever faced terrorism charges, reacted with shock and dismay, according to the article. CAIR's Awad referred to the listings as "ignorant, bigoted garbage." That's about the nicest thing we could say.