A prominent video game company Epic Games mistakenly blocked a Muslim American professor, Muhammad Khan, from an online game Paragon because someone who has the same name as him is on a US government blacklist.
Muhammad Zakir Khan, an assistant professor at Florida’s Broward College, came across an unusual error message, instead of being given an account for the game as he tried to sign up for the beta of first-person shooter Paragon, a multiplayer game inspired by esports hits such as Dota 2.
“Your account creation has been blocked as a result of a match against the Specially Designated Nationals list maintained by the United States of America’s Office of Foreign Assets Control,” the message read, before advising Khan to email Epic’s customer service.
Khan posted a tweet to Epic Games including his message with the hashtag #iamnotaterrorist.
— Zakir Khan (@Muzzakh) January 10, 2016
In response to the tweet, Tim Sweeney, the founder of the company apologised and said that the ban was a result of errors on top of errors.
Sweeney explained that the company used the US Treasury database as a way of filtering people who tried to use its gaming engine, which is a complicated software system, often used in major commercial projects, which would be subject to American trade restrictions. He added that it was not meant to be used to filter people who were simply trying to play the game.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) January 10, 2016
Khan said that he was thankful for Sweeney’s apology, but he was still worried about the issues it caused.
“First, the fact that the problem existed in the first place frustrates me. Someone designed Epic’s system without thinking of its impacts. Second, someone overseeing said system being put into place didn’t provide oversight of said system. Thus, they were careless and sloppy. Third, if they had just taken a moment to think about what they had done they could realise how hurtful it could be for someone.”
“It’s not a good feeling for someone to feel like their freedoms are being limited because of their religion, race, or even their name. Incidents of discrimination lead to trauma even if you do not understand them as an outsider. That pain is real and hard to cope with.”
It's not a good feeling for someone to feel like their freedoms are being limited because of their religion, race, or even their name.
— Zakir Khan (@Muzzakh) January 12, 2016
The Specially Designated Nationals list is a little-known blacklist produced by the US government as part of its enforcement of economic sanctions against nations such as Iran, Syria and Crimea so as to help companies prevent from accidentially doing business with high-profile citizens of or corporations controlled by those blocked nations.
Blacklist includes Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, deceased Mexican alleged drug trafficker Manuel Torres Felix and former Serbian nationalist Goran Hadzic.