A new technology at least in part funded by the federal government has made it even quicker and easier for cops to grab money via asset forfeiture.

The device is called ERAD, short for Electronic Recovery and Access to Data, and it has already been deployed in Oklahoma.

ERAD is made possible through a combination of university and federal funding. A 2011 Newsletter described how a program run by DHS in collaboration with San Diego State University (SDSU) is used to expedite technology equipment from research and development labs to local, state, and military agencies. This program called the Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology (CCAT). By 2012, ERAD had gone mainstream into the hands of local and state governments.

The newsletter states:

“Utilizing DHS funding provided via CCAT, PaymentCard Services created a processing methodology and a VeriFone VX-680[product name of device] loaded with ERAD patent pending software operating on wide area wireless network or web based platforms which could allow law enforcement to obtain prepaid card balances and seize funds if typical patterns of illegal use are present in the prepaid card history. In addition, the company developed a systematic approach to freeze and seize prepaid card funds and establish an electronic chain of custody for accounting, legal, and audit purposes. The system can be operational globally.

This device looks like a card reader at you local store. When you swipe the card, it reads the balance. It is geared toward accessing information on prepaid cards. What is the fuss?  The assumption is that organized criminals are funding their activities, whether they be identity theft or drugs, through prepaid cards.

The ERAD device allows a police officer to seize money on a prepaid card if he suspects its related to drug or other criminal activities. It effectively expands the scope of asset forfeiture.

“Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects a person may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan and seize money from prepaid cards. OHP stresses troopers do not do this during all traffic stops, only situations where they believe there is probable cause.”

Today this technology was being used, most notably in Oklahoma.

Using ERAD, asset forfeiture by law enforcement will most likely increase because processing fees will be charged every month whether ERAD is used or not –

“Seven and seven-tenths (7. 7%) percent of the total dollar amount forfeited, during the term of this contract, using the Payment Processing Service. Each month, and concerning each separate seizure, EGI will invoice Agency the Processing Fee computed on the forfeiture ordered in a final non-appealable determination by a court of competent jurisdiction that has adjudicated the case which gave rise to the seizure. Agency shall only be responsible for paying Processing Fees in the amount set out in a final non-appealable forfeiture order.”

Abuses have already occurred with the Oklahoma ERAD program according to Oklahoma Grassroots. One of the most notable occurrences involved the manager of a Christian band:

“One recent case took place right here in Muskogee County, when Burmese Christian band manager Eh Wah had over $53,000 in sales proceeds and donations seized by the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department after being pulled over for a broken tail light. Wah was never charged with a crime, and after the story hit national media Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge dropped all charges and returned the money.”

The police addiction to seizing assets doesn’t stop at prepaid cards. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) wanted much more from the ERAD technology. According to ACLU, who obtained the contract bid, DPS requested that the card reader be able to look up banking information such as a router number and account number. The police wanted the ability to be able to freeze and seize bank accounts as well. The ERAD group declined, stating banking information required a subpoena.

There is good news in the state of Oklahoma. ACLU quoted State Senator Kyle Lovelace, “The fact that DPS officials initially sought access to banking information shows the program was just another method to take money.

“We’ve seen this time and time again,” Loveless said. “Now we see they were trying to get that type of information. This shows this isn’t about identity theft, drugs, or crime or ISIS, it’s just another method to take innocent people’s property.”

In reaction, multiple studies and meetings are about to commence on the ERAD program in the fall. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has told DPS to delay using the devices until a state policy has been put in place.

During the 2016 session, the Oklahoma legislature failed to pass asset forfeiture reform. The existence of these ERAD devices in the state underscores the need to enact these reforms during the upcoming session. The state also need to be sure to close a loophole allowing state and local police to pass on cases to the feds and circumvent more stringent state laws. Other states need to reform their asset forfeiture laws as well, as its almost certain these devices aren’t limited to Oklahoma.

Kelli Sladick

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