Legalized Debit Card Theft: How Civil Asset Forfeiture Became More Controversial

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, June 13th, 2016, 1:46 PM PERMALINK

According to a report released by Oklahoma Watch last Tuesday, The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety purchased “Electronic Recovery and Access to Data” (ERAD) machines to assist law enforcement with seizing funds in asset forfeiture cases. Oklahoma has been struggling with frequent civil asset forfeiture abuses and it seems like state law enforcement are trying to step up the use of forfeiture rather than reforming it.

The devices allow officers to seize funds on debit cards from people that are suspected of drug trafficking but do not have cash present with them at the time. The report notes that,

“The portable card scanners are designed to be carried in law enforcement vehicles, allow troopers to freeze and seize money loaded onto a prepaid debit card, and to return money to an account whose funds were seized or frozen. The vehicle-mounted scanners are also capable of retrieving and storing limited account information from other cards as well, such as banking debit cards, credit cards and payment account information from virtually any magnetic stripe card.”

If the process of civil asset forfeiture wasn’t already controversial enough, law enforcement decided to purchase these machines in order to seize a person’s funds out of his or her own private bank accounts without any additional due process. Officials claim that these devices are essential to hinder drug trafficking in the state.

This new development happened after a highly publicized seizure involving a Texas charity worker who had $53,000 confiscated over a broken tail light. Eh Wah, a volunteer manager for a Christian rock band, was driving across Oklahoma when he was stopped by local police and had the charity money he was travelling with seized. In light of events like these, state police seek to expand their confiscatory powers.

Moreover, not only do these machines violate the individual’s right to property and privacy, but they are also extremely expensive. The Huffington Post noted that each ERAD costs $5,000 plus an additional $1,500 for training. In the state’s deal with the manufacturer, 7.7% of all proceeds seized with the ERADs will be returned to the manufacturer, the ERAD Group.

State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) expressed his discontent for the program, stating that “Law enforcement’s going to say that there are good uses for it and that they use it on a limited basis, but this is deja vu all over again. We heard that last year and we’ve seen innocent people’s stuff taken. We’ve seen how [law enforcement] spins it and it’s just not right.”

Oklahoma legislators need to stop thinking about profit and start thinking about the constitutional rights of its citizens. The ERAD program violates privacy and property rights, and it should be renounced as the violation of fundamental rights that it is.

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