Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin tapped the brakes Friday on a controversial plan to equip Highway Patrolmen with open loop debit card readers.
The card readers, supplied by the ERAD Group, Inc., would allow traffic cops to seize the value of debit cards that are not associated with a bank account. Police routinely seize cash from motorists accused or suspected of criminally acquiring their money. The basis for these accusations is usually a policeman’s intuition or cruelty and Oklahoma has become notorious for stealing cash from citizens. This legalized theft is called “civil asset forfeiture.” Debit cards sold by retailers like Green Dot and Walmart are an alternative to carrying cash. The card readers allow police to determine the value of the cards and seize that value as if it were cash during traffic stops.
ERAD is an acronym for Electronic Recovery and Access to Data. The ERAD Group is owned by an entrepreneur named T. Jack Williams who is also the president of Paymentcard Services, Inc. About four years ago he began proposing the use of the card readers to the Department of Homeland Security. Williams has portrayed the cards as tools used “to launder money or finance terrorists.”
The Oklahoma card readers are intended for use on the Interstate Highway 40 “forfeiture corridor.” A contract between Williams and Oklahoma stipulated that Williams will get 7.7 percent of the money seized using the card readers. Oklahoma’s proposed use of the card readers has been widely condemned. Nick Sibillia, of the Institute for Justice, told Fox News the use of the card readers to seize money from motorists as they passed through the Sooner State was “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Radley Balko called the deal Williams made with Oklahoma “shady.”
The rhetoric Oklahoma has used to justify issuing the card readers to police has been fatuous. In her press release last week, Governor Fallin said, “The readers are intended to apprehend those involved in identity theft or other illegal activities involving monetary transactions.” Prepaid cards must be “loaded” before they can be used and seizing the money pre-loaded on them has absolutely nothing to do with identify theft.
Last Friday Fallin “directed her Cabinet secretary of safety and security to delay the use of devices.” Fallin also said, “More than 25 states use the card-reading devices. Their use has been upheld by courts.” She did not name the states or the court cases.
She did say, “The Department of Public Safety needs to formulate a clear policy for using this new technology…. It can be a viable tool for law enforcement only if authorities are able to ensure Oklahoma motorists and others driving through our state that it will be used appropriately.”
“The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has enjoyed the trust of Oklahoma motorists for decades,’’ Fallin also claimed. “Taking time to develop policy for the use of these devices and to educate the public will help calm the fears of the motoring public.”