The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has purchased several 'Electronic Recovery and Access to Data' devices to install in police cruisers for seizing funds from prepaid debit cards during roadside arrests.
Oklahoma Watch first broke the news. There, Clifton Adcock reported that police use of this technology represents a new approach to civil forfeiture, and began with a DHS initiative.
Using the scanners, cops can increase the number of roadside seizures of cash earned through sales of illicit drugs. Criminals are kind of like the rest of us: they're not carrying around cash as much anymore. Everything's plastic or digital these days. What is money now? A lot of the time, it's code.
The portable card scanners were first introduced for law enforcement use by the Department of Homeland Security, and are sold by Texas-based ERAD (Electronic Recovery and Access to Data).
The ERAD scanners are designed for use in law enforcement vehicles. Using the ERAD device, troopers in Oklahoma will be able to "freeze and seize" funds that a suspect has previously loaded on their prepaid debit card. The technology can also be used to return funds to an account from which funds were previously seized or frozen.
The vehicle-mounted scanners can read and store some data from other cards, too: debit cards, credit cards, and "payment account information from virtually any magnetic stripe card," according to ERAD's website and patent documents.
But the scanners can only retrieve funds from "open loop" prepaid debit cards (Visa and American Express offer them, as do other providers). Any "debit cards attached to a valid checking account or valid credit cards cannot be processed" to freeze and seize by an ERAD (Electronic Recovery and Access to Data) system.
In other words, this is not a magical device with which cops can empty your bank account if they decide you're a drug dealer. Could they empty a prepaid debit card you're carrying at the time of a traffic stop, if they say you're a drug dealer? Well, yeah, that's the idea.
Here is a Department of Homeland Security video for police, on how to use ERAD.
Civil asset forfeiture is the subject of heated debate throughout America, and it's a subject we cover frequently here at Boing Boing.
Federal and state laws allow police to take property or cash said to have been earned through drug trafficking. The officer grabs the assets, and the law enforcement agency they work for then takes ownership of the assets through a civil court action.
Sometimes the police officers steal valuables or cash along the way for themselves.
The contract signed by the state and ERAD Group, obtained by Oklahoma Watch, states that Department of Public Safety will pay a one-time $5,000 implementation charge and a $1,500 training charge for the devices.
ERAD Group will receive a 7.7 percent cut of all funds seized via the card readers. Vincent said the 16 prepaid card readers obtained by the department were installed in May.
The card readers will not be used to randomly swipe motorists' gift or prepaid cards, Vincent said, but only in cases in which the trooper suspects criminal activity is taking place. The device logs which trooper is using the device when a card is swiped.
"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."
"New Front in Civil Forfeiture: Authorities Get Devices to Seize Funds Loaded to Prepaid Cards" [Oklahoma Watch]
Here is a copy of Oklahoma's state contract with ERAD Group: [PDF Link]
Related reporting: Forbes.com, Oklahoma News 9.