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Epic mistake erroneously blocks man for being on U.S. watchlist

Epic mistake erroneously blocks man for being on U.S. watchlist

January 11, 2016 | By Alex Wawro

January 11, 2016 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC

Epic chief Tim Sweeney took to Twitter yesterday to publicly apologize to a man who was temporarily blocked from creating an Epic Games account because his name was flagged as matching one on a list of "Specially Designated Nationals" maintained by the U.S. government.

This is notable because it helps elucidate how Epic (and presumably other game companies) work with the federal government -- and how that cooperation can affect developers the government believes should be prohibited from dealing with U.S. persons.

In this case, the man in question was not a developer but an Epic fan, Dr. Muhammad Zakir Khan, who wanted to create an Epic Games account over the weekend in the hopes of taking part in a Paragon beta test.

"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," Dr. Khan tells Gamasutra via email. "Initially, I thought I had been hacked. I literally stopped everything and told myself verbally out loud, 'What the heck?' I felt dehumanized and discriminated against. Frankly, it hurt."

The "red text" Khan refers to read, in part, that "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 full list includes persons and entities believed to be terrorists, drug traffickers, or agents of countries with agendas counter to that of the United States.

"I remember calling my wife over to take a look at the screen and she too was in disbelief," says Khan."I immediately spoke with some friends over Facebook and Twitter who were outraged and shocked. From there, the story spread all over Twitter with Tim finally reaching out to me. "

Though Sweeney and Epic Games declined to offer further comment to Gamasutra on why this happened, Sweeney noted on Twitter yesterday that Khan's attempt to create an account was blocked due to an "overly broad filter related to U.S. trade retrictions."

He went on to apologize for the oversight and promise to rectify it, noting that the "bad filtering code" was part of an effort to ensure that Epic was compliant with federal trade restrictions since Unreal Engine 4 is regularly used internationally for commercial projects.

Sweeney noted that Epic "reused [the code] for free Paragon signups without foreseeing this" and explained to Khan and other concerned parties that Epic is trying to fix this by switching to a system that will check names and billing addresses against the federal database when someone actually makes a purchase from Epic, rather than at the initial account signup.

"To be honest, I'm not satisfied with Epic Games' response to all of this," Khan tells Gamasutra. "For a company located in North Carolina's Research Triangle which is home to a lot of diverse individuals, a programmer should have thought more critically in developing this platform. Someone at the company should have caught this mistake far before it existed."

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