If it was not frightening enough that police already have the power to seize your cash without convicting you of any crime through the process of civil forfeiture, it is certainly no comfort to learn that some police can access your money on prepaid debit cards, thanks to a new technology called ERAD.
IJ Communications Associate Nick Sibilla reported on this development in Forbes, explaining:
“Law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma have purchased devices that allow police to seize and freeze funds electronically, which may dramatically expand their power to permanently confiscate property using asset forfeiture. Manufactured by the Texas-based ERAD Group, the devices work on “open loop” prepaid debit cards, like those offered by Visa or American Express. However, “debit cards attached to a valid checking account or valid credit cards cannot be processed” by an ERAD (Electronic Recovery and Access to Data) system.”
These new machines, purchased by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, can tell police officers the balance on prepaid cards. If police deem the amount of money suspicious, they can seize the money electronically. The president of the ERAD Group even told reporters that hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country now own ERAD systems.
IJ Attorney Matt Miller told The Huffington Post why this development is disturbing:
“You have a police officer on the side of the road with this scanner who can get total access to this person’s account and potentially seize it and then make them go to court and prove that it’s not connected with criminal activity, and in the meantime their funds are tied up by this reader.”
“If the police are willing to seize $1,000 worth of cash, I think they’re going to be just as likely to seize $1,000 that they find on a debit card.”
Radley Balko at The Washington Post also commented on the fact that this is happening in Oklahoma, a state with a spotty record on forfeiture abuse. Oklahoma received a D- on IJ’s 2015 Policing for Profit report, and Muskogee County just recently returned cash that was seized from an innocent Christian band leader who was raising money for an orphanage in Burma. Balko adds:
“Let’s not forget that this is the same state where a district attorney was caught contracting forfeiture actions out to private company, including the authority to pull over motorists. Another prosecutor used forfeiture funds to pay off his student loans. Still another used the law to live rent-free in a seized house, despite a judge’s order to sell it. He also used forfeiture proceeds to pay his utility bills.”