Okla. Accused of Seeking Access to Bank Accounts

     OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — The American Civil Liberties Union claims Oklahoma wanted illegal access to citizens’ bank accounts through electronic card readers that would allow highway troopers to seize or freeze money during traffic stops.
     The ACLU of Oklahoma said Wednesday that state records show the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety asked Fort Worth-based supplier ERAD Group Inc. for the capability.
     “In its original ‘solicitation specifications,’ DPS asked ERAD to ‘provide a fully functional solution that allows law enforcement to read and manage data (seize, freeze or return funds) from cards with magnetic stripes containing account numbers and cash balances at the time of contact,'” the ACLU said in a statement. “In its response to DPS, the ERAD Group said it could not provide the individual bank records DPS wanted. ERAD said its system did not ‘provide banking information such as bank account number or routing number’ and asked that the section be removed from the contract.”
     ERAD reportedly told DPS that certain information on cards are only “available via subpoena sent directly to the issuing financial institution,” but that it would assist DPS whenever asked for such information.
     The ACLU says DPS later withdrew the request after admitting the need for a subpoena for such information.
     “In retrospect the vendor’s comments sound reasonable,” DPS wrote at the time. “Would assume all gift type cards composition is universal. The point is well taken and should have been considered some information requires a subpoena. Therefore DPS has no objection to removing” the request.
     DPS did not immediately respond to an email message requesting comment Thursday afternoon.
     During a press conference Monday, DPS officials said the idea that highway patrol officers are “out there scanning everyone’s information” is incorrect.
     However, the ACLU says state officials failed to tell reporters the agency had initially requested the capability to access bank account and routing numbers.
     DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson told reporters the agency does not have “scanners.”
     “We have card readers. We have to have reasonable suspicion to stop someone and have to have probable cause to move to swipe the information on that card,” he said. “We cannot access your bank account.”
     Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director, said the only reason DPS was denied access to the information was because ERAD “told them no.” He said it was “troubling” that ERAD is connected to the state’s Black Asphalt database.
     “It’s concerning that one of ERAD’s references was a key figure in Desert Snow, a company whose employees were caught impersonating police officers in Caddo County to make illegal seizures,” Henderson said. “This same individual was also involved in Black Asphalt, a secret program that violated citizens’ privacy to turn a profit.”
     The ACLU sued Logan County Sheriff Jim Bauman in 2014 over the secret Internet database that allegedly tracks the activities of thousands of citizens who were never charged with a crime.
     Several state lawmakers have asked DPS to stop using the card readers. State Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said the government “is robbing its people.”
     “This is deplorable,” Williams said. “The State of Oklahoma is allowing the [highway patrol] to swipe money from a card even if the trooper has no solid proof that the money in the card holder’s account was acquired illegally.”
     State Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said the card reader program is a dangerous, unconstitutional tool. He plans to hold public meetings about the program in the fall.
     “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.”

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