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Civil asset forfeiture (CAF) is coming under increased criticism around the country, as the immoral nature of this drug war weapon becomes exposed. New Mexico became the first state to make meaningful reforms, and even law enforcement officers are speaking out against CAF.

CAF amounts to outright theft from innocent people since cash and assets can be taken with no conviction of a crime. It brings millions in revenue to police departments so they can turn around and get more gadgets of oppression.

Case in point—the Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) Prepaid Card Reader. This tool, developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is increasingly being deployed by local police departments.

The ERAD allows cops to swipe prepaid cards, check the balance, freeze the account and take all the money. The ostensible purpose is to go after “bad guys” with “dirty money,” as drug traffickers are turning to prepaid cards instead of bundles of cash when traveling.

However, this ERAD-enabled moral crusade by government will undoubtedly bring about more theft from innocent people, including those with no actual drugs and harmless users who might have a joint lying around.

If Joseph Rivers had put his life savings on prepaid cards as he traveled to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a music producer, he still would have been robbed by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

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The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona was recently approved to use ERAD devices during traffic stops that result in the discovery of illegal drugs. They are paying $3,685 for three readers, but also must give 5.7 percent of the stolen wealth to the company, creating a demand for more and more CAF seizures.

Approximately $1 million has already been seized by state and local police agencies using ERAD card readers.

Bill Soto, program manager at the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, describes how the new CAF tool is becoming a hot item.

The Prepaid Card Reader has generated a lot of interest from our state and local law enforcement agency partners, and there is a growing demand by these agencies for use of this technology by their personnel. It provides a unique tool for when they encounter suspect cards with magnetic strips during the performance of their duties.

The threat to citizens is particularly significant for those who don’t have the means to get a bank account and manage their finances with prepaid cards. If they happen to have a bit of weed in their car, they could be left without a penny to their name.

We know that many students, immigrants and unbanked persons use and rely on prepared cards as their primary means of making payments and managing their finances,” said attorney Judith Rinearson. "Why should they be singled out and treated disparately from users of other payment products? Why should law enforcement have access to their account balances without a subpoena or other due process?

If federal, state and local governments are serious about reforming the wasteful, immoral war on drugs that has criminalized and stolen from millions of nonviolent people, then CAF reform should be a top priority. They should follow New Mexico’s example and require a conviction before seizing money and assets from people.

The rollout of the ERAD card reader, however, tells us that authorities are intent as ever in the quest to steal from citizens.