Oklahoma police now have it easier than ever to seize someone’s money — not just the cash on a person but also the funds in their bank account — during a routine traffic stop.
In a cruel twist to the civil asset forfeiture debate, where cops can take money from civilians without arresting them or presenting a warrant, the department of public safety and other law enforcement agencies in the state are now carrying portable card readers that can confiscate or freeze money loaded on to prepaid cards on suspicion of illegal activities.
The Electronic Recovery and Access to Data devices (or ERAD readers), mounted on police patrol cars, tells officers the balance of prepaid debit, credit and gift cards while also allowing them to seize it.
More disturbingly, ERAD readers can also provide information about almost any card with a magnetic strip — including the name on the card, its number, issuer and the expiration date.
“If we have reasonable suspicion to believe there’s a crime being committed, we’re going to investigate that. If someone has 300 cards taped up and hidden inside the dash of a vehicle, we’re going to check that,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent told Oklahoma Watch. “But if the person has proof that it belongs to him for legitimate reasons, there’s nothing going to happen. We won’t seize it.”
However, the most interesting (and perhaps the most worrisome) part of the contract between the state and the ERAD Group is that the state would pay the manufacturers 7.7 percent of all funds forfeited with the readers. How convenient.
Each ERAD reader costs about $5,000, excluding $1,500 for training.
Oklahoma describes civil asset forfeiture as an important weapon against the drug trade, but the vague nature of the state’s laws has people worried to no extent.
“Asset forfeiture laws where government can seize your assets without trial and the burden is put on you to prove that your assets did not come from some presumed illegal activity are evil,” opined an online user. “Honestly, it's gotten hard to tell what is legal and what is illegal these days, because I feel like governments twist the law to cover things you would never think they cover.”