I'm leaving this public because I'd like some answers if anyone from PayPal ever stumbles upon this.
Yesterday one of my Malay co-workers got an email from PayPal asking him to prove that he is a Singaporean citizen by sending them copies of his identification card and bank statement/credit card statement/utilities bill. At first I thought it might be a phishing scam, but then the email knew his real full name, knew that he's from Singapore and there was a security icon next to the PayPal address on the sender line (this was in Yahoo email).
AND the email made reference to something about an anti-terrorism funding act or something. Basically, that it's acting under a policy not to fund terrorists. Which is fine, except that you know... not everyone with an Arab/Muslim-sounding name is a terrorist. My co-worker asked around and discovered that several of his Malay friends had received the same email. His non-Malay friends (including myself) who use PayPal have not received anything.
So? you might ask. If he's innocent he should have no problem sending off the relevant info. Well, here's why I'm all riled up over this:
1. Racial profiling has, time and again, been shown to be a weak, ineffective, lazy way of dealing with terrorism and other crimes. Look at this report from Amnesty
and this one from the Progressive Policy Institute
. I quote specifically from the latter (adapting slightly): "The problem with racial profiling is not that it targets 'dangerous people in dangerous places.' It is that it targets inaccurately and in ways that breed resentment and mistrust between the [majority] and [minority communities]."
2. Linked to the above point is the way that this specific example of racial profiling puts the onus on the customers to prove his innocence. In other words, contrary to the noble aims of Western law, customers are presumed guilty until proven otherwise.
3. PayPal has a Singapore HQ that supposedly deals with all accounts outside Europe and America. You'd think this would prevent such a scenario of blatant racial profiling to occur - either because it should be easier to prove one's citizenship here, or because we understand the sensitivity of racial issues, or - if you want to be really cynical - because we have been trained never to pick on one racial group, and to carry out the pretense of being fair to everyone even when targeting one racial group. In other words, if a Singaporean department were to carry this out, they'd send the email to everyone who has spent above a certain limit.
4. Events like this give a very bad impression of America to the rest of the world. It leads one to conclude that Americans see Muslims, Malays and Arabs as one common "other" to be targeted.
I'm very disappointed in PayPal's actions.