No longer are asset seizures limited to only the assets that you have on-hand. Now with the help of the Electronic Recover and Access to Data (ERAD) Reader, law enforcement can check your balance, freeze, and seize your prepaid debit and gift card accounts on the spot – giving contemporary meaning to the term ‘highway robbery.’
This device stirs up even more concerns over civil asset forfeiture abuse because it provides zero due process and instant seizure at the discretion of the attending officer.
Civil asset forfeiture is the ‘process’ (or lack thereof) by which law enforcement agencies can seize property and cash merely believed to have been involved in crime. Following civil court proceedings – where the citizen has to fight to prove their innocence – the agency can possibly take full ownership of the assets.
ERAD also allows law enforcement to retrieve and store account information from non-prepaid cards as well, such as: banking debit cards, credit cards, and banking and account information from almost any other card with a magnetic strip.
The process begins when the officer scans the card. The balance inquiry comes up as a vendor so no red flags are sent to anyone who may be monitoring activity. After the account balance is determined, the officer can freeze the funds to prevent use or withdrawal, or even worse: seize the funds by transferring them to a law enforcement financial account.
“If the person has proof that it belongs to him for legitimate reasons, then nothing’s going to happen. We won’t seize it,” said the Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
The problem with that is obvious: no American should have to bear the burden of proving ownership over their prepaid debit or gift cards. The 4th Amendment was crafted for this very purpose.
The technology was originally created as a directorate from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology department, “Since it was put into field testing, the Prepaid Card Reader has resulted in approximately $1 million dollars being seized by state and local law enforcement agencies from suspected criminal activity.” DHS doesn’t identify how many, or few, of those suspected of criminal activity were charged and convicted.
The use of this device comes at a convenient time. There’s a growing use of prepaid debit cards by low-income people, those without banks, and even young adults who choose to hold their money with a credit union rather than a traditional bank. You can also get your tax refund on a prepaid card.
DHS transitioned the card reader to the commercial market and since then many enforcement agencies have contracted with Texas-based ERAD Group, Inc. to purchase the devices.
An ERAD presentation by its president T. Jack Williams said of the process, “Individuals do not have privacy with magnetic stripe cards… [The information] literally has no purpose other than to be provided to others to be read.”
Another problem, at least in Oklahoma, is that in addition to the device and training fee, the state pays a 7.7 percent processing fee for the total amount seized during the contract’s term.
Oklahoma State Senator Kyle Loveless has been on the forefront of criminal justice reform in the Sooner state, and next legislative session he plans to re-file his “Personal Asset Protection Act” legislation that would require a criminal conviction before assets are seized. “If I had to err on the side of one side versus the other, I would err on the side of the Constitution,” Loveless said. Last session the bill was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of Chairman Anthony Sykes’ political pandering to law enforcement groups.
The ERAD issue was brought up because of Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s new use of it, but this conversation needs to be had in every state. As ERAD Group, Inc. grows, other state and local entities will look to this technology. This device provides instant seizure with no due process. The ability to violate American rights by seizing property for little more than the consideration of it being involved in a crime needs to be significantly scaled back, if not eliminated entirely. We need to urge law enforcement to look for ways to apply the law equitably and without placing the burden on innocent civilians. The stakes for civilians are simply too high to do otherwise.