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Oklahoma police tool drains debit cards; no conviction necessary

by Justin King

The card reader can be used for roadside seizures, authorized under controversial asset-forfeiture laws.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers can now seize funds from prepaid debit cards, without requiring a warrant or criminal charges.

The Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) device can be used in the field, enabling officers to quickly drain cards found in vehicles or on drivers and passengers. Officers must merely establish a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime is being committed.

To get the money back, or counter initial suspicions, individuals must prove the money was obtained legitimately.

The ERAD device merely expands available seizure methods authorized by asset-forfeiture laws. The controversial programs are promoted by law enforcement as a critical tool to help fight the War on Drugs.

"If someone has 300 cards taped up and hidden inside the dash of a vehicle, we're going to check that," OHP public information officer Lt. John Vincent told Oklahoma Watch. "But if the person has proof that it belongs to him for legitimate reasons, there's nothing going to happen."

Civil-rights advocates claim officers frequently abuse the system and take money from law-abiding citizens. In many states, courts have agreed that "innocent until proven guilty" protects individuals, but not their possessions.

Raising further concerns, the company that owns the patent for the device, ERAD Group, receives a 7.7-percent cut of any funds seized using the tools. A larger portion can find its way back to police departments for new gear and other expenses, creating a potential conflict of interest.

"This is a capability that law enforcement has never had before and one that is very likely to land [Oklahoma's Department of Public Safety] in litigation," opined ACLU Oklahoma legal director Brady Henderson.

The devices are not reportedly used to extract cash from individual bank accounts, though they can record data from personal debit cards. Government agencies appear to be confident that prepaid debit cards will be interpreted by the courts as no different than cash, without the additional layers of legal protections for bank accounts.

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