Civil asset forfeiture has been a hot topic over the past few years. Police are basically allowed to seize your money or property without warrants, proving that you’ve committed a crime or arresting you. All they need is the suspicion that your money/property is ill-gotten. Spikes in asset forfeitures are seen when police departments are struggling financially. In 2014, the Institute for Justice found that the Treasury and Justice departments deposited $5 billion into their asset forfeiture funds (the number of seizures is not recorded). This is in comparison to $3.5 billion taken during burglaries that year. That means the government jacked more than robbers. A new technology has been introduced which will certainly add to the government’s total. The ERAD (Electronic Recovery And Access to Data) machine allows cops to seize suspected dirty funds from accounts digitally.
During arrests of criminal couriers, law enforcement officers rarely find bundles of cash wrapped in rubber bands anymore. Instead, they find stacks of plastic cards — bank credit and debit cards, retail gift cards, library cards, hotel card keys, even magnetic-striped Metrorail cards — that have been turned into prepaid cards.
The ERAD machine enables police to seize or freeze the available balance on Visa, Mastercard and American Express prepaid cards by a simple swipe. According to the ERAD website, “With this information, and proper legal authority, Law Enforcement personnel can transfer the money associated with a prepaid card directly to a designated Law Enforcement bank account…”
The DHS reports that $1 million has been seized by state and local law enforcement agencies since field tests started. One example given was the scanner’s use following the arrest of a suspected drug trafficker, in possession of 1,000 cards, to seize $48,000 in funds loaded on the cards.
Most recently, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol adopted the technology. Sixteen prepaid card readers were put into use by the state police last month. However, Republican State Senator Kyle Loveless, appropriately, has no love for the machines. He claims that the cops have already abused the technology. “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,” said Sen. Loveless. In response, he plans to introduce legislation that will require a criminal conviction for asset seizures to transpire.