According to the Washington Post, “The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains its ‘Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List’ to be easily accessible on its public Web site.” It is a list of foreign persons and entities suspected of certain terrorist or criminal activities and associations. Per federal law, American businesses are forbidden to engage in transactions with those listed, on pain of “harsh penalties that include 30 years in jail and fines up to $10 million against corporations, and $5 million against individuals, and civil penalties of up to $1 million per incident”.
Although the main regulatory impact of the law appears to have fallen on financial institutions and on big-ticket retailers such as auto dealers, per Maryland attorney Thomas B. Hudson of Hudson Cook LLP, the law’s regulatory reach is wider than one might think, because it “prohibits anyone, not just car dealers, from doing business with” those on the list, so that selling a newspaper, or a bottle of soda pop, or a shoeshine, to one of the malefactors, is equally unlawful. Purveyors of all these goods and services are apparently expected to get their customers’ names, and check them against the list, before doing business if they really want to feel secure they’re not breaking the law (Don Oldenburg, “Hit-and-Miss List: If You’re in This Directory, Forget Shopping”, Washington Post, Apr. 9). For more on the weird implications of the concept I once dubbed “merchandise laundering”, see my Reason piece of March 1999.