Oklahoma police agencies are being provided with devices that enable law enforcement to scan prepaid debit cards and pinpoint funds associated to them for civil asset forfeiture, enabling officers to permanently seize property they believe is linked to criminal activity.
The portable card scanners are tailored to be carried inside vehicles, which allows officers to freeze money on a prepaid debit card and return it to the account of its rightful owner.
“We’re gonna look for different factors in the way that you’re acting,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent, told KWTV. “We’re gonna look for if there’s a difference in your story. If there’s some way that we can prove that you’re falsifying information to us about your business.”
Shredding civil liberties
The contraptions are able to obtain and store limited account information from other cards, including debit cards, credit cards and payment account information from “virtually any magnetic stripe card,” according to the website’s manufacturer, Texas-based ERAD Group Inc.
The card readers have the potential to rekindle a debate over civil asset forfeiture in Oklahoma and throughout the country. State and federal laws permit law enforcement agencies to take property and money suspected to be part of the illicit drug trade and own those assets through a civil-court action.
Law enforcement agencies purported that civil asset forfeiture is necessary to combat drug trafficking operations. Civil liberty advocates note that the civil asset forfeiture violates individual property and civil rights and can result in blameless people having their money taken by police officers without being arrested or charged.
“I think this is likely to expand pretty radically the scope of civil asset forfeiture procedures,” Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, told Oklahoma Watch. “This is a capability that law enforcement has never had before and one that is very likely to land DPS in litigation.”
The contract signed by the state and ERAD Group, acquired by Oklahoma Watch, says the Department of Public Safety will be charged $5,000 for implementation of the devices and a $1,500 for training law enforcement how to use them.
Vincent claims the card readers will not be used to swipe the gift and prepaid cards of drivers at random. Rather, they will only be used in instances when troopers believe criminal activity is occurring. However, it should be noted no technology is immune to abuse.
“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,” Vincent said. “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.”
Fighting the legislation
Republican State Senator Kyle Loveless of Oklahoma City argued against the policy on the grounds that it undermines the traditional presumption that suspects are innocent until proven guilty.
“We’ve seen single mom’s stuff be taken, a cancer survivor his drugs taken, we saw a Christian band being taken. We’ve seen innocent people’s stuff being taken. We’ve seen where the money goes and how it’s been misspent,” Loveless told KWTV.
Loveless said he plans to submit his own bill during the next legislative session that mandates a conviction prior to confiscation.
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