- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Authorities here are using an expensive new device during traffic stops to seize money that’s been loaded onto prepaid debit cards by alleged drug traffickers, as law enforcement agencies across the state search for new ways to combat the flow of illegal drugs into Oklahoma.

Deployment of the scanners - which can cost up to $8,000 - comes at a time when civil asset forfeiture laws are facing intense scrutiny at federal and state levels.

While supporters of the laws say they are critical for undermining criminal operations and funding local agencies’ drug-law enforcement efforts, national advocacy groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Charles Koch Institute are calling to reform the practice.

Supporters of the technology - it’s unclear how many law-enforcement agencies use similar scanners across the country- say it’s necessary to arm law enforcement with the latest technology to combat those who are accustomed to using sophisticated equipment to establish supply lines and construct smuggling tunnels that snake under borders.

But some civil rights groups, such as the ACLU, are wary of the practice, saying the scope of technology could have unintended consequences.

“An early prediction is the folks who get caught up in this new front of civil asset forfeiture are going to be the lower-income and lower-middle-class Oklahomans who have come to rely on debit cards,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent said law enforcement agencies are after the larger cash couriers. “We’re not looking to violate civil rights,” Vincent said. “We’re in the habit of fighting crime. We’re not in the business of making money.”

The scanning technology enables police to determine the value on prepaid cards and immediately secure or freeze the funds, according to Electronic Recovery and Access to Data, the company supplying the scanners to Oklahoma law enforcement.

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