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World-Check 'terrorist' database, Thompson Reuters sued

 
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TonyGosling
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 1:01 am    Post subject: World-Check 'terrorist' database, Thompson Reuters sued Reply with quote

Whitehall_Bin_Men wrote:
HSBC's curbed 'risk appetite' - and what it means for British Muslims
Last year banking giant HSBC closed accounts of several British Muslims. Anna Meisel and Peter Oborne reveal how the decision was made
http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hsbcs-curbed-risk-appetite-and-what- it-means-british-muslims-709622001

Several Muslim institutions and individuals say HSBC sent them letters last July saying their accounts had been closed (AFP)
In late July last year, Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque near the Emirates football stadium in north London, was astonished to receive a letter out of the blue from his bankers HSBC.
The letter informed him that his bank account was to be closed. It explained: “HSBC bank has recently conducted a general review and has concluded that provision of banking services to Finsbury Park Mosque now falls outside of our risk appetite.”
There was no further explanation and no right of appeal. Kozbar says that there had been no previous issues between the mosque and HSBC and that he “couldn’t understand” what had happened.
Several other Muslim institutions and individuals received the same letter from HSBC, each one dated 22 July 2014.
Other HSBC clients who suddenly fell outside the bank’s “risk appetite” included the Cordoba Foundation, a think tank which says that it specialises in building relations between the Muslim world and the West.
Anas Altikriti, the foundation’s chief executive, had banked with HSBC ever since he had been a university student 30 years ago. His personal bank account was closed, along with his wife’s and his two teenage children. Once again there was no right of appeal.
So what happened and why were the accounts closed? When we started to investigate we ran up against a wall of silence.
HSBC refuses to discuss the bank account closures. But we learned about World-Check, a confidential database owned by the financial information giant Thomson Reuters.
World-Check is used by 49 out of the largest 50 banks in the world to help them judge who to take on, or to retain, as clients.
In the post 9/11 world, banks are required to know their customers and can be held responsible if their clients are involved in financing terror or money-laundering. To avoid this, the banks rely heavily on databases like World-Check.
Journalists cannot get access to it but one of their clients – who had strong reservations about the software – let us in. When we obtained access to the database, the word “terrorism” came up in dark red, directly above the name of the Cordoba Foundation.
The World Check website page sourced the “terrorism” claim to the United Arab Emirates. The UAE lists the Cordoba Foundation as a terror group.
One of the smaller Gulf states, the UAE has itself been the centre of money-laundering allegations. It has been criticised for human rights abuses, including torture. It brands certain political opponents – including the Muslim Brotherhood - as terrorists.
Anas Altikriti is one of the most prominent Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Britain. His father was one of the leaders of the Brotherhood in Iraq.
The World-Check website contained several strong disclaimers, and stressed that the “accuracy of the information found in the underlying media sources should be verified with the profile subject before any action is taken”. Furthermore, World-Check stressed that the decision to open or close accounts lay with the banks.
World-Check also listed Finsbury Park Mosque under the category “terrorism”. In the case of the mosque, World-Check dealt in detail with the period when it was under the control of Abu Hamza, an al-Qaeda-sympathising cleric with proven links to terrorism.
However, a new management committee, led by Mohammed Kozbar and with the tacit approval of the Metropolitan Police, took over the running of the mosque a decade ago.
There have been no further suggestions of terrorist involvement. Though this information was included by World-Check, it took careful reading to get to it.
World-Check’s profiles are created from publicly available information of the kind that anyone can access. However it is not clear that banks can always reach an informed decision about clients based on the World-Check information.
Questions also surround World-Check sources. On examination of the website, we discovered information from Wikipedia as well as blogs (for instance Muslim Brotherhood Watch) and the news agency WAM, which is close to the UAE government.
When we put this to World-Check they said that: "World-Check uses only reliable and reputable public domain sources (such as official sanctions lists, law and regulatory enforcement lists, government sources and trustworthy media publications) for risk-based information or allegations about an individual or entity.
“We also provide secondary identifying information on individuals, such as dates and place of birth, and this will be similarly verified with reputable and official sources. If blog content appears, it is only as a supporting source for that secondary information, and is clearly identified as such."
The World-Check entry on Finsbury Park Mosque also contained the information that Mohammed Sawalha was a trustee. Sawalha is believed to be one of the most senior Muslim Brotherhood figures in Britain. He is also alleged to have been a Hamas commander in Gaza 25 years ago. Hamas is designated by the US and other governments as a terrorist organisation.
But Kozbar said that Sawalha had been a trustee ever since the new management board was configured 10 years ago, with the approval of the police.
Kozbar is shocked that World-Check listed his mosque under the designation “terrorist”. He says: “We never got this information before and we never thought that still Finsbury Mosque [is] considered as a terrorist place.”
The episode has inflicted reputational damage on the Finsbury Park Mosque, which found it impossible to get a bank account with another High Street Bank, he says. It now banks with a small Islamic bank.
HSBC refuses to answer questions about the closures. But it insists: "When we review a customer relationship we typically gather information from a wide range of sources and take a number of factors into consideration. Although we can't always provide customers with specific reasons for closing an account, any such decisions are not taken lightly and are not based on a customer's race or religion.
“We are committed to working with the UK government and industry bodies to support the not-for-profit sector and to help charity customers manage risk in their operations."
We also discovered a connection between David Cameron’s decision to review alleged Muslim Brotherhood links with terrorism, and the decision by HSBC to close down the bank accounts of several politically active British Muslims.
British government anxiety about the Muslim Brotherhood - as well as panic over the emergence of the Islamic State group - caused banks to conduct examinations of their clients in the early summer of 2014.
According to one senior government official: “There is a definite connection between the bank account closures and the review of the Brotherhood.”
Experts within the banking industry have confirmed that the Brotherhood review created an atmosphere of concern – though they added there was no pressure from government to close accounts.
Cameron’s review, which focused in part on the connections between the Brotherhood and terrorism, was announced in April 2014. Just three months later HSBC sent its letters to well-known British Muslim organisations and individuals.
The bank account closures were especially odd because counter-terrorism legislation gives the British authorities power to freeze the accounts of individuals or organisations which are suspected of being implicated in terrorism.
But this action has not been taken against any of the organisations whose bank accounts were closed by HSBC.
There is a deeper and more troubling context here.
By sending the message to law-abiding Muslims that they are excluded from the simple privileges enjoyed by all other British people, we risk encouraging rather than suppressing extremism.
This story, which also appears on BBC Online, is based on a BBC Radio 4 Documentary 'HSBC,

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Terrorism Database Used by Governments and Banks Leaked Online
A security researcher managed to get hold of Thomson Reuters’ World-Check database, which flags terrorism and organised crime suspects.
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/xygae7/terrorism-database-t homson-reuters-world-check-leaked-online

Jun 29 2016, 12:15pm

A researcher has obtained a copy of Thomson Reuters' "World-Check" confidential intelligence database, which is used by governments, intelligence agencies, banks, law firms and more to scope out risks including suspected terrorists. It was likely left exposed on the open internet by a third party.

Described by Thomson Reuters as a "global screening solution," the World-Check service, which relies on information from all over the world, is designed to give deep insight into financial crime and the people potentially behind it.

"We monitor over 530 sanction, watch and regulatory law and enforcement lists, and hundreds of thousands of information sources, often identifying heightened-risk entities months or years before they are listed. In fact, in 2012 alone we identified more than 180 entities before they appeared on the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list based on reputable sources identifying relevant risks," the Thomson Reuters website reads.

It includes the categories "political individual," "corporate," "military," "crime—narcotics," and "terrorism"

Although World-Check is based on public information, European privacy laws impose strong restrictions on the collection, storage, and publication of information about individuals. For that reason, the database can only be used for screening purposes by customers vetted by Thomson Reuters.

On Tuesday, however, security researcher Chris Vickery wrote on Reddit that he had obtained a mid-2014 copy of the database. Although he doesn't say exactly how he came across the data, Vickery has previously found dozens of open databases which can be accessed with no authentication, including customer details, voting records, and more.

"No hacking was involved in my acquisition of this data. I would call it more of a leak than anything, although not directly from Thomson Reuters. The exact details behind that can be shared at a later time," Vickery wrote.

Motherboard has reviewed a copy of the exposed World-Check database. It contains over 2,240,000 entries, and includes the categories "political individual," "corporate," "military," "crime—narcotics," and "terrorism."

However, World-Check can sometimes flag those not involved in crime. As VICE News previously found, the database has listed major charities, activists, and mainstream religious institutions under the label of "terrorism." Those include the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) executive director Nihad Awad; Liberal Democrat politician Maajid Nawaz, who founded the counter-extremism organisation Quilliam, and former World Bank and Bank of England advisor Mohamed Iqbal Asaria. None of these people have ever faced terrorism charges, VICE News adds.

"Thomson Reuters was yesterday alerted to the fact that out of date information from the World-Check database had been exposed by a third party. We are grateful to Chris Vickery for bringing this to our attention, and have acted with the utmost urgency to contact the third party concerned—with whom we are now in contact in order to secure the information," David Crundwell, a spokesperson for Thomson Reuters told Motherboard in a statement.

"World-Check aggregates financial crime data from the public domain, including official sanctions data, to help clients meet their regulatory responsibilities," he continued.

A World-Check fact sheet says the service is used by over 300 government and intelligence agencies, nine of the top ten global law firms, and 49 of the world's top 50 banks. Overall, the service allegedly has over 6,000 customers in 170 countries.

Update June 29, 14:50: After the publication of this article, a spokesperson from Thomson Reuters wrote in an email that the company had contacted the third party responsible for the leak and that they had taken down the information. "We have also spoken to the third party to ensure there will be no repetition of this unacceptable incident," the spokesperson added.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

'Businessmen, royal families and charities' to sue over Thomson Reuters terror database list
https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/businessmen-royal-families-charities-sue-ove r-thomson-reuters-terror-database-list-1604534

Company expected to be hit be slew of lawsuits after mosque awarded £10,000 damages.
Tom Porter By Tom Porter
February 2, 2017 17:10 GMT
Finsbury Park Mosque 2
Finsbury Park Mosque, north London has been run by the Muslim Association of Britain since the radical cleric Abu Hamza was ousted as imam in 2005 Getty
Individuals and organisations are preparing to sue Thomson Reuters after allegedly appearing on a database of individuals with terror links used by financial institutions around the world. On Wednesday (1 February 2017) Finsbury Park Mosque in north London said it had reached a settlement for £10,000 ($12,500) in damages after being listed on World-Check, a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters that contains information on criminal allegations against institutions and individuals worldwide.

A lawyer who represented the mosque said that others had now come forward with claims that their bank accounts were frozen after wrongly appearing in the database.

More from IBTimes UK
Man seen throwing bag of rotten pork at Finsbury Park Mosque in London
Muslim Association of Britain lashes out at David Cameron over Muslim Brotherhood report
Criticise our mosque, Cameron? We could teach you a thing or two about British values
"We have been contacted by a number of people – 25 to 30 – who believe they are listed on the database," said Charlotte Tyrell, a solicitor at Farooq Bajwa and Co.

"It ranges from businessmen to members of royal families, charities and various other individuals as well."

The World-Check database is used by the majority of the world's major financial institutions to identify and potentially blacklist customers on international sanctions lists, or linked to extremist or criminal activity. However, eroneous or outdated information was used in the database alongside legitimate data.

It is believed that the Finsbury Park Mosque was listed because of its past links to notorious extremist preacher Abu Hamza. Since 2005, the mosque has been under different management, and has been praised for its anti-extremism and community relations work. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to take US President Donald Trump to the mosque during his forthcoming controversial state visit to the UK to educate him about diversity.

Tyrell said that some individuals believed they had been listed on the database because of erroneous or outdated press reports, and others because of "unreliable sources such as Wikipedia and other sources like that." She said that there was a potential for fake news reports and deliberate smears to find their way into the database as "there does not seem to be a large amount of vetting in relation to what is relied upon for the creation of these profiles."

In December 2016, the Times reported that a nine-month-old baby was on the database because her father, a minor British royal, was listed as a "politically exposed person". After the contents of the database were publicly exposed, IBTimes UK understands that Thomson Reuters has moved to strictly police access to the file.

A Thomson Reuters spokesman said: "We have made clear in the court statement our regret for publishing certain allegations concerning Finsbury Park Mosque. All profiles on World-Check are reviewed on an ongoing basis. A clear privacy statement online sets out how any individual can contact us if they believe any of the information held is inaccurate, and we would urge them to do so."

_________________
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 1:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

VICE News Reveals the Terrorism Blacklist Secretly Wielding Power Over the Lives of Millions
By Namir Shabibi and Ben Bryant
https://news.vice.com/article/vice-news-reveals-the-terrorism-blacklis t-secretly-wielding-power-over-the-lives-of-millions

February 4, 2016 | 1:20 pm
An American Muslim civil rights leader praised by George W. Bush, an economist honored by the British Queen, and a prominent anti-extremism campaigner have all been secretly given a "terrorism" designation on a confidential database that banks use as a reference tool for blacklisting customers, a VICE News investigation can reveal.

The highly influential World-Check database has also listed major charities, activists, and mainstream religious institutions under its category of "terrorism". Dozens of terror profiles in the database owned by Thomson Reuters seen by VICE News include:

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director, Nihad Awad, one of a select group of American Muslim leaders invited to join former US President George W. Bush in a press conference condemning the 9/11 attacks. CAIR, the recipient of multiple leadership awards, is also terror-listed by World-Check.
Liberal Democrat politician Maajid Nawaz, who founded counter-extremism think tank Quilliam and has advised successive British prime ministers.
Former World Bank and Bank of England advisor Mohamed Iqbal Asaria, who was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) award in the 2005 Queen's Honours List for services to international development.
The confidential service, part of an unregulated industry, claims that it is used by over 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies and 9 of the top 10 global law firms. It provides "an early warning system for hidden risk" — and is used by banks, for example, to minimize their risk of complicity in terrorist financing or money laundering.

'Inaccurate, bigoted garbage'
However, numerous individuals and organizations have reacted with anger and shock to the discovery that they have a "terrorism" designation on World-Check's database, which is compiled using public domain sources. They have told VICE News that they dispute their inclusion, and believe that it may have harmed their reputation or business dealings. None of them have ever faced terror charges.

VICE News found that the database has grown dramatically since it was founded in 1999. It now lists more than 2.7 million individuals and entities spanning a variety of categories. Since 2007, the number of terror entries has risen fivefold to over 93,000.

Nihad Awad (second from right) stand with former President George Bush in 2001 to condemn the September 11 attacks. Photo via White House press office

CAIR Executive Director Awad — recently profiled by the LA Times as an emerging voice for civil rights leadership in the 21st Century — described his profile as "inaccurate, bigoted garbage."

"You can imagine how many innocent individuals and organizations have suffered at the hands of World-Check and similar entities with no recourse," he said. "I leave it to the reader's imagination to think why the largest American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization is listed."

Politician Nawaz, one of the UK's most prominent counter-extremism activists, told VICE News his inclusion was "laughable".

"I have consulted to every UK Prime Minister from Tony Blair onwards on how our society can best address Islamist extremism," he said. "If true, compiling lists of 'undesirable individuals' by name, especially if such lists are not open to public scrutiny or regular updating, is a terrible move to adopt by any organization."

'Plucking names from baseless online allegations'
Former World Bank and Bank of England advisor Asaria told VICE News he was "angry and upset" at the designation and accompanying allegations. "It makes me more than worried. If this is what the banks have at best, they're not looking at something serious here."

Commenting on VICE News' investigation, British Labour Party MP Diane Abbott said: "This is deeply troubling. World-Check says it uses only public domain sources to compile its terrorism designations. In some cases that appears to have involved plucking names from baseless online allegations and placing them onto an unregulated site, with no stringent process of review.

"This can clearly be discriminatory and wield significant power over people's lives. Questions must be asked."

The impact

In a new financial age of "de-risking", companies like World-Check play a vital role in the supply of risk data to banks and law enforcement agencies. The trend follows the US government's mammoth $1.9bn fine of HSBC bank, after a Senate investigation found that it had served as a channel for "drug kingpins and rogue nations". Banks are increasingly terminating or restricting business relationships to avoid money laundering and terror financing.

In the past two years, a number of prominent British non-profits, including Cordoba Foundation, Cage, and Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) have had their accounts or transactions frozen by banks with no explanation.

A report by BBC Radio 4 last year asked whether terror designations by World-Check had contributed to — if not caused — bank account closures by HSBC. An Overseas Development Institute report also observed that the proliferation of unregulated private sector tools like World-Check had increased account closures, "particularly if the client in question is of limited profitability."

'I believe it cut off 50 percent of potential business for me'
Banks are not legally obliged to tell their customers why they have closed their accounts and World-Check binds its users to secrecy about use of the database. Both PSC and the Cordoba Foundation are currently terror listed by World-Check among a number of other major British non-profits.

Several of these individuals and organizations expressed concerns that their listing had affected their lives in other ways.

"I believe it cut off 50 percent of potential business for me," Asaria CBE told Vice News. "Several people in my industry said, 'I'll get so-and-so to contact you but never came back.' I'm sure they consulted World-Check and asked, do we want this?"

'No independent input'

In an email to non-profit Cage seen by VICE News, World-Check claims to be an impartial resource that stores profiles of individuals and organizations with "no independent input or opinion." However, critics argue this claim is at odds with its "terrorism" designation, in which profiles are accompanied by a logo of a red balaclava.

"World-Check slaps a big red 'terrorism' label right next to people's names," Ben Hayes, an independent consultant specializing in terrorist sanctions and financial surveillance told VICE News. "That is their judgment; no-one else's."

"The repercussions of categorizing an individual or organization as a terrorist are severe, prejudicial and punitive for a range of individuals, most of whom may never have even known that they were profiled by World Check," Ravi Naik, Head of Public Law at London-based ITN Solicitors which represents PSC, told VICE News. PSC is currently considering legal action.

How World-Check sources its claims

World-Check literature explains that as well as listing sanctioned and convicted individuals, it lists individuals "facing charges, but not yet convicted," including those "accused, investigated, arrested, charged, indicted, detained, questioned or on trial" for World-Check listed crimes. The listed crimes include terrorism, hostage-taking, slave labour and sexual exploitation of children.

VICE News asked World-Check how it determines whether an individual is suitable for "terrorism" designation.

World-Check told VICE News that it uses "only reliable and reputable public domain sources (such as official sanctions lists, law and regulatory enforcement lists, government sources and trustworthy media publications) for risk-based information or allegations about an individual or entity."

Blog content would only be used as a "supporting source" for "secondary identifying information," a spokesperson said.

However, VICE News saw listings for individuals and organizations that did not appear to conform to this code of practice.

Each terrorism profile includes a list of the sources of information used by World-Check when compiling the profile — and some have been created solely from allegations written on conservative blogs, Islamophobic websites and political organizations.

'Once you start spreading it, it starts to stick'
VICE News examined Asaria's profile. The unsubstantiated allegations that have contributed to his terrorism designation are all sourced to two right-wing blogs: PipeLineNews and Militant Islam Monitor. The named author of the PipelineNews piece is also the director of Militant Islam Monitor. The allegations are not sourced to any news site, official sanctions list or government entity.

Two people who create profiles at World-Check, and one who reviews them, said separately to VICE News that the organization does not hold a list of approved sources for risk-based information or allegations about an individual or entity. Both the choice of sources and the designation was at their discretion, they said, and the use of new sources was not routinely checked.

Hayes said: "There is nothing sophisticated going on here. It is just World-Check trawling public domain sources for people who can be placed in any of the categories."

Other terror designations by World-Check were sourced to allegations made by websites and blogs such as DanielPipes.org and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). The two are run separately by Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson who Cambridge University Press' Companion to American Islam describes as "Islamophobes." Last year British Prime Minister David Cameron called Fox News pundit Emerson "a complete idiot" for claiming that the English city of Birmingham was a no-go zone for non-Muslims.

'Something from Never-Never Land'
The UK's Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is another organization whose bank accounts were closed without explanation last year by the Co-Operative Bank. The closure of its accounts is a decision ultimately taken by the banks, but VICE News discovered that the organization had received a "terrorism" designation on World-Check based on allegations made by IPT and another blog.

PSC Chairman Hugh Lanning said that World-Check "sounded like something from Never-Never Land."

"PSC is a completely lawful organization, going for 30 years, and we've never been questioned or challenged by any legal authority anywhere on anything and yet we've ended up terror listed."

"It's amazing that a company like this can print this as fact," he told VICE News. "And once you start spreading it, it starts to stick. It's almost as good as Tony Blair's terror dossier: 'I heard somebody who heard something which is a rumor of...' And yet we've had no right to challenge it. It's a political blacklist and it's outrageous."



Former British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg MP (left) with Maajid Nawaz. Photo by Polly Hanlon

Historic allegations

World-Check claims to update 40,000 profiles per month, and wrote in a recent paper that "individuals inaccurately designated or indicted are removed from the database."

But some of the profiles appear to have been constructed from historic allegations that do not accurately reflect the individuals they profile.

Maajid Nawaz — who ran for parliament for the Liberal Democrats in the last election — has undergone a well-documented transition from a radical to a prominent counter-extremism activist. He now advises world leaders on how to tackle extremism — but his profile, seen by VICE News, is compiled using sources that largely cite his previous membership of the radical Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. It lists no contemporary allegations of terrorism.

'For World-Check this is a terrific virtuous circle'
"[It] is a bit like someone wanting to brand the Shadow Chancellor a terrorist on the basis of his former comments about the IRA," said Tom Dawlings, a former Bank of England Financial Sanctions Unit Head who advised World-Check in 2008. "If that's what's happening to prospective MPs then I would suggest it has gone too far."

A World-Check senior staffer VICE News spoke to said that profiles were reviewed, but that this would be a quick process and sourcing would not typically be checked. Individual reviewers checked between 300 and 600 profiles a day, they said.

"For World-Check this is a terrific virtuous circle," said Tom Keatinge, the Director of the Centre for Financial Crime & Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). "The problem of course is that if you add an extra 25,000 names per month you had better keep them up-to-date".

The profile of a terror-listed professor from one of the elite British Russell Group of universities seen by VICE News had not been updated in over six years. Another terror profile, this time for a Western anti-war umbrella group, had not had its profile updated in eight years.

When banks or regulators find a terror profile, it can take the option to conduct an "enhanced due diligence report." However a bank's compliance officer is unlikely to do so, according to former World-Check executive and board member Mike Short.

"If someone had a [terrorism] hit on World-Check, that's really end of story...you can't do business with them anyway," he said.

Appeals

Many of the individuals and organizations VICE News spoke to said they had attempted to appeal their listing, but that there was no clear route to do so.

A World-Check spokesperson said: "World-Check has a clear privacy statement available on its website which also sets out how any individual can contact us if they believe any of the information held is inaccurate, and we would urge them to do so."

'Once a terrorist always a terrorist'
However, two senior World-Check employees who asked not to be named told VICE News that in over eight years working at the firm they had not seen a single case of an individual successfully challenging their terror designation.

"Once a terrorist always a terrorist – no matter what he says, he stays where he is," said a current senior analyst. They spoke to VICE News on condition of non-attribution.

"Because of World-Check's confidentiality clause, the overwhelming majority of people affected by World-Check's profiling will have no idea why they have been refused a bank account or had a transaction blocked," said consultant Hayes. "So it is preposterous to suggest that World-Check is genuinely interested in removing innocent parties.

"Even someone on the Al-Qaeda, Taliban UN 1267 sanctions list has more rights to an ombudsman than someone caught up in this," said RUSI's Keatinge.

Growing database

World-Check has also provided its service to the US Department of Homeland Security, the United Nations and European Union organizations to screen beneficiaries of their aid, as part of a burgeoning $5 billion a year private risk mitigation industry. HireRight, an American pre-employment screening company that conducts over 12 million background checks annually in 240 countries also uses the service. According to a 2013 analysis by Hayes, annual subscription fees to World-Check's database can reach over $1 million.

'World-Check very effectively taps into an extreme neurosis the banks have'
"It's clear they've been aggressively expanding their database to include as many people as possible," said Hayes, who has documented the rise of World-Check.

World-Check's Terrorism and Insurgency Research Unit Head John Solomon boasted in 2007 that the system had "a distinguished record of alerting its clients to terrorists and their supporters prior to their inclusion in official government lists." The confidential service would also monitor "violent animal rights extremists" and "ethno-nationalist groups."

"World-Check very effectively taps into an extreme neurosis the banks have," Keatinge told VICE News. "They are protecting themselves from known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns."

'They have been given free rein'
An industry blacklist used and sold by leading construction firms in the UK, which highlighted people for union activities or for raising health and safety concerns at work, was uncovered in 2009. A group of 600 affected workers from a blacklist of over 3,000 workers, including teachers and postal staff, brought legal action against the companies. The action prompted an "unprecedented" apology from the firms and the workers are reportedly close to securing damages totaling tens of millions of pounds after taking legal action.

"When private companies have bigger intelligence databases than organizations like Europol, and sell them on the open market, alarms bells should be ringing," said Hayes. "Instead they have been given free rein."

Amnesty International UK's Economic Affairs Director Peter Frankental said: "Any company using or maintaining blacklists is at risk of abusing human rights.

"The end result for those targeted could well be violations of their right to privacy and loss of livelihood from being deprived of employment opportunities. Victims of such activity should have access to civil litigation to claim a remedy for damage done to them, and those companies that engage in blacklisting activities or make use of such lists illegally should be held criminally accountable."

Follow Namir Shabibi and Ben Bryant on Twitter: @nshabibi and @benbryant

Correction: An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect that Daniel Pipes runs DanielPipes.org, not the website World News Daily Report. Pipes is a contributor to WorldNetDaily but has nothing to do with World News Daily Report.

TOPICS: world-check, reuters, terrorism, terror, islam, nihad awad, maajid nawaz, mohamed iqbal asaria, cair, quilliam foundation, palestine solidarity campaign, uk, europe, us, azzam tamimi, hsbc, thomson reuters, war on terror

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thomson Reuters World-Check is a 'witch-hunt' and it's time to shut it down
http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/thomson-reuters-world-check-shoul d-be-shut-down-1537090720

Maintaining this service means that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people around the world will continue to be wronged and caused distress

Azzam Tamimi
Wednesday 18 October 2017 13:29 UTC

First it was Barclays in Cricklewood, London, in 2008, then HSBC in Kilburn, London, in the summer of 2014, and soon afterwards in early 2015 Al-Arabi Al-Islami of Jordan in the cities of Amman and Madaba simultaneously.

All three banks, in the same way, decided suddenly to close my bank accounts and deny me their services. In the case of Barclays, there were two accounts, a personal one and another business account in the name of IIPT (the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, which I directed since 1998.)

In the case of HSBC it was a joint family account in my name and my wife’s name. In the case of Al-Arabi Al-Islami, I had a business account in Amman and a joint account with my wife in Madaba.

READ MORE►Who checks World-Check? It is high time someone did

In all three cases, no explanations were offered, just a brief piece of advice, or instruction: "Take your money somewhere else and do not ever contemplate opening a bank account here in the future." Not only that, I was told not to try and appeal against the decision, because it wouldn’t work!

I suspected this was big when, inadvertently, a young lady at the Al-Arabi Al-Islami Madaba branch sympathised with me and revealed that "they say in the bank that your name is on some list". She had no further information to give me, although she was eager to help.

I went straight back to the branch manager and said to him: "What list? Why is my bank account being closed?” He responded: "Dr Tamimi, I have great respect for you, I follow you on TV and I read your writings. Please do not ask me further questions because I have no answers. These are orders from high up. Please, just take your money and open an account elsewhere."

World-Check is a project of shame and it demeans a global organisation such as Thomson Reuters to be involved in such a witch-hunt
I must say that I very much appreciated the personal communication and the human touch at the Madaba branch in Jordan. Back in London, all I received from Barclays and HSBC were letters informing me of the decision and giving me a few weeks' notice to withdraw the money or else a cheque would just be sent to my address with whatever remains in the accounts when the deadline was due.

It is distressing enough to feel excluded and denied a banking service for no obvious reason. I must admit I became anxious. My wife started worrying too. She asked: "What does this mean? How are we going to pay our bills and book our plane ticket? What will happen to our credit cards? Will another bank offer us services?"


People walk past a branch of HSBC bank in central London (Reuters/Neil Hall)
The list

Initially, I thought perhaps it was the UK government. I had my disagreement with them both on Palestine and on the war on Iraq. I was a prominent figure in the anti-war movement.

But soon I dismissed that possibility. For even if my relationship with the front bench politicians was not that good, I certainly had good working relationships with many others and especially with the security agencies who frequently consulted me on matters pertaining to the Middle East and the impact developments there were likely to have on Britain.

My plight with the banks remained a mystery until I was contacted by Namir Shabibi, a journalist writing for Vice News. It turned out he had been investigating something called World-Check, a website owned by Thomson Reuters.

World-Check provided the banking community, as well as all sorts of many influential institutions around the world, with a regularly updated long list of individuals suspected of links to terrorism. My name was on that list, according to Mr Shabibi, who suggested I write to Thomson Reuters' World-Check and ask them whether they would confirm that my name was on their list.

READ MORE► Banks are unfairly targeting Muslim. Now ministers must end this injustice
The reply to my email was instant. A lady said my name was not on the list. By then I had already been in consultation with my lawyers at ITN in London who suggested that I should write again to Thomson Reuters and ask: "Are you sure my name is not on your list?"

The same lady answered in an email dated 23 February 2016 as follows: "Firstly I apologise for the oversight on my part, but after conducting further internal review and investigation, I can confirm that a profile was included under your name and date of birth, but subsequently removed following our normal research process of updating information included in the World-Check database. I can confirm the profile was removed on 18 February 2016."

Project of shame

That means my name was removed from the list during that same week. Most likely, Thomson Reuters sensed something.

It turned out that they had a profile on me since as early as 2003 and that a majority of world banking institutions use their World-Check service, including Barclays, HSBC and most likely Al-Arabi Al-Islami of Jordan.

It took nearly a whole year for Thomson Reuters to agree to an out-of-court settlement with my lawyers. I told my lawyers right from the start it was not financial compensation I was after but an admission of guilt on the part of this organisation so as to press for an end to the injustice perpetrated against so many innocent people around the world.

World-Check is a project of shame and it demeans a global organisation such as Thomson Reuters to be involved in such a witch-hunt. After all, an investigation by the Intercept website earlier this year suggested that the database they feed their clients with has been drawn from sources including websites accused of promoting Islamophobia and relying on inaccurate and outdated information.

World-Check does not even bother to check the accuracy of its database.

I am relieved that finally I have been vindicated. But I shall not be pleased until I hear that Thomson Reuters have closed World-Check. The continuation of this service means that hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people around the world will still be wronged and caused distress.

- Azzam Tamimi is a British Palestinian academic and political activist.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: The Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wharf, London (Reuters/Russell Boyce)

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thomson Reuters World-Check was wrong to designate the Palestinian Return Centre as 'terrorist'
The organisation's case against World-Check is likely to have momentous consequences
http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/thomson-reuters-world-check-prc-1 853405792

Peter Oborne
Monday 5 March 2018 14:15 UTC

The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) is a high-profile Palestinian organisation not just in Britain but in Europe. It advocates the rights of Palestinians expelled by Israel in 1948.

On Friday, it went on the attack.

Its director, Majed al-Zeer, issued legal proceedings against Thomson Reuters, the owner of financial intelligence service World-Check.

Devastating effects

The PRC says that it has made this remarkable move because World-Check has listed it, and Al-Zeer personally, in its "Category: Terrorism" on the private database of potential banking clients which it makes available to thousands of financial institutions worldwide.

The PRC says that this designation has had devastating effects, both on its own standing and the reputation of Al-Zeer. As a consequence, PRC says, its bank accounts were closed and its main donor ceased to fund it. The centre claims its very existence was thrown into question.

And all this despite the fact that there is no evidence of any kind that the PRC has any involvement in terrorism. Indeed quite the contrary.

The PRC is recognised with special consultative status at the United Nations. This means, according to the Palestinian organisation, it has 21 security passes at the UN. It regularly briefs British MPs. PRC says that nobody in Britain has ever accused it of having links to terror.

The case of the Palestinian Return centre is not simply a matter of an organisation seeking to clear its name. It is also about the way in which governments can blacken the names of their opponents with accusations of terrorism
For years, the PRC didn't even know about its terrorist designation on World-Check. Several times banks mysteriously closed its accounts. On one occasion the PRC moved to Metro Bank after HSBC wrote to it saying, with no proper explanation, that its account was to be closed. But Metro Bank then closed its new account.

In February last year the PRC took note of the case of Finsbury Park mosque in North London, which also had its bank account closed. The mosque discovered that it was labelled as linked to terror on World-Check.

Lawyers investigated and found World-Check terror designations. The PRC and its lawyers agreed that there could only be one reason for this: it had been declared a terrorist organisation by the state of Israel.


View outside Thomson Reuters offices in New York (AFP)
The PRC says that the state of Israel has done this for purely political reasons. This case, if and when it comes to court, will therefore have momentous consequences. It challenges the ability of a sovereign power to designate its political opponents as terrorists.

Experts tell me that in their view Israel, the UAE and Egypt are the three countries most often behind terror labels on World-Check.

The Israeli connection

So the case of the Palestinian Return Centre is not simply a matter of an organisation seeking to clear its name. It is also about the way in which governments can blacken the names of their opponents with accusations of terrorism.

In the PRC's case, this happened in December 2010 when the Israeli defence ministry declared it an "illegal" organisation.

Describing it as a "Hamas affiliate", the ministry said that it was "involved in initiating and organising radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimising Israel's status as a nation among the European community".

Israel said that Hamas members held senior positions in the organisation. It also claimed that the PRC used anti-Israel propaganda to promote Hamas' goals and that the centre maintained close ties with the Hamas leadership in Damascus.

If World-Check loses this case, it means that a British court will have found Israel’s designation to be politically motivated and unreliable
Much of the Israeli designation rested on the fact that the PRC had hosted Hamas leader Ismail Haniya at a conference via video call in 2009. The PRC denies having links or ever having had links to Hamas. As for the Haniya speech, they point out that he was at the time prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and therefore the official voice of Palestine.

Among those who had met Haniya during that year was former US president Jimmy Carter.

Furthermore, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center, whose report is used to justify Israel's designation, is linked to the Israeli military and has an office in the defence ministry.

Its researchers even admitted that they relied on circumstantial evidence and that it was their assessment that the PRC had received funding from foundations linked to Hamas "even if it cannot be proved".


Mohamed Kozbar (C), the chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, outside the High Court on 28 June, 2017 (MEE)
The PRC's claim against World-Check, if and when it comes to court, will therefore be a landmark case.

There is already a pattern of governments branding their political opponents terrorists, and World-Check failing to scrutinise this.

The Cordoba Foundation, another group described as terrorist by World-Check, is a think tank which says it promotes understanding between the West and the Muslim world. I traced the closure of its account by HSBC back to a terrorist designation by the UAE.

Politically motivated

In the case of the PRC, observers say the Israeli government may have gone after it as part of a campaign to delegitimise Palestinian organisations.

In 2015 academics at the University of Bath concluded that Israel's battle in that year to prevent the UN granting the PRC consultative status was the latest example in "Israel's wider effort to criminalise international civil society organisations actively promoting Palestinian rights and equality".

The University of Bath report has been commissioned by the PRC. But the centre has had no role in study design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data, or writing of the report. The PRC was responsible for providing funding, design and editorial layout.

READ MORE ►

Thomson Reuters World-Check is a 'witch-hunt' and it's time to shut it down
If World-Check loses this case, it means that a British court will have found Israel’s designation to be politically motivated and unreliable. If World-Check wins, it means that governments like Israel, the UAE and Egypt can condemn their political opponents as terrorists with little scrutiny.

Bastion of free speech?

Thomson Reuters is one of the most famous names in journalism. One of Reuters' guiding principles from 1941 says that "the integrity, independence, and freedom from bias of Thomson Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved". The company also sees itself as a bastion of free speech.

"If you were to look at the World-Check profile, you just see 'terrorist', 'terrorist', 'terrorist'," says Mujib Gallagher, one of the solicitors representing the PRC. "They don't say it's a UN-recognised organisation. They don't have to put their own stamp on it."

World-Check has a history of wrongfully labelling Muslim groups as terror-linked. As well as the Finsbury Park mosque, last year, Thomson Reuters apologised to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a long-term campaigner for Palestinian rights, for incorrectly classifying it as linked to terror after its bank account was closed.

READ MORE ►

Who checks World-Check? It is high time someone did
I should claim some credit for this. I uncovered World-Check while investigating these account closures for BBC Radio 4. When I managed to obtain access to the database – through a client who was sceptical of its methods – I was shocked at how sloppy it was.

As well as these contested terrorist labels, there were factual inaccuracies, such as dates of birth.

When approached by MEE, Thomson Reuters declined to comment on the case itself but issued a statement in which it said: "Our World-Check product and services aggregate data from reliable and reputable public domain sources – official sanctions lists, law and regulatory enforcement lists, government sources and trustworthy media publications – to help organisations fulfill their due diligence obligations and identify potential financial and related crime."

I am not saying that we don't need services like World-Check. The ubiquity of money laundering and the power of organised crime mean that banks must avoid facilitating terror. And there are signs that it is changing its ways.

Anecdotally, lawyers tell me that World-Check has been removing names from its list of terrorists over the past year. According to the Palestinian Return Centre it has not gone far enough.

- Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

Additional reporting by Richard Assheton

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