Muhammad Zakir Khan wanted to check out the beta for the MOBA-inspired Paragon from Epic Games, but when he tried to register an account, he was blocked because his name was apparently on the US government’s “Specially Designated Nationals list.” It’s been fixed, but the hell happened?
Here’s what showed up when Khan tried to register:
“I had seen a thread on Reddit earlier in the day about Paragon and was excited to signup for the beta,” Khan told me. “When I went to the website to register for an account, I hit submit and that’s when I faced the red text. I was shocked.”
You, like me, probably haven’t heard of the “Specially Designated Nationals list” or the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Even without knowing what arm of the government each of those are part of, it’s utterly bizarre to see them associated with something as simple as signing up for a video game beta.
Per the US Department of Treasury’s website:
“The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.”
In other words, it’s a list meant to track criminals doing work with the US.
Khan lives in the US and was understandably surprised to find himself suddenly associated with terrorism.
“Initially, I thought I had been hacked,” he said.
But after he tried registering again and nothing changed, he tweeted at Epic and wrote “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist. #Islamophobia.”
“I literally stopped everything and told myself verbally out loud, ‘what the heck?’” he said. “I felt dehumanized and discriminated against. Frankly, it hurt. I really enjoy playing video games, they’re a nice escape for me.”
It didn’t take long for Epic co-founder Tim Sweeney to apologize on Twitter.
The list of names is actually part of the public domain. You can look it up here. When we did a search, we found four names matching “Muhammad Khan.”
“As part of its enforcement efforts, OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] publishes a list of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific. Collectively, such individuals and companies are called ‘Specially Designated Nationals’ or ‘SDNs.’ Their assets are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.”
Such filters are not exclusive to Epic—it’s part of doing international business.
That said, it shouldn’t have been there. Sweeney explained that Epic had reused website code for Unreal Engine 4 when preparing the signup page for Paragon.
“The filter was intended for UE4 (used in large international commercial projects), rather than games,” said Sweeney. “The code was originally written for paid commercial access to UE4. We reused it for free Paragon signups without foreseeing this.”
The signup page was apparently quickly altered, as I have been unable to reproduce the same error message that Khan received.
“To be honest, I’m not satisfied with Epic Games response to all of this,” said Khan. “ [...] I also believe that further transparency of the relationship between the government and gaming companies needs to be disclosed. This whole situation for me is jarring and now I’m curious to know what other companies are feeding gaming data of American Muslims to the government.”
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.