Today's Washington Post has a piece entitled Stop and Seize on the rise of civil forfeitures from traffic stops. The article discusses a hidden law enforcement system, called Black Asphalt, that shares detailed reports about American motorists, including social security numbers, addresses, even tattoos. This calls into question the validity of a number of forfeiture actions I've seen where police reportedly stopped persons for routine traffic violations--as well as raising a number of other potential privacy and constitutional issues. (If you've had cash seized from a traffic stop, contact an attorney to discuss your options). Here's an excerpt on the Black Asphalt program:
Behind the rise in seizures is a little-known cottage industry of private police-training firms that teach the techniques of “highway interdiction” to departments across the country.
One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.
Many of the reports have been funneled to federal agencies and fusion centers as part of the government’s burgeoning law enforcement intelligence systems — despite warnings from state and federal authorities that the information could violate privacy and constitutional protections.
A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.
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- Agencies with police known to be participating in the Black Asphalt intelligence network have seen a 32 percent jump in seizures beginning in 2005, three times the rate of other police departments. Desert Snow-trained officers reported more than $427 million in cash seizures during highway stops in just one five-year period, according to company officials. More than 25,000 police have belonged to Black Asphalt, company officials said.
- State law enforcement officials in Iowa and Kansas prohibited the use of the Black Asphalt network because of concerns that it might not be a legal law enforcement tool. A federal prosecutor in Nebraska warned that Black Asphalt reports could violate laws governing civil liberties, the handling of sensitive law enforcement information and the disclosure of pretrial information to defendants. But officials at Justice and Homeland Security continued to use it.
The Post obtained hundreds of Black Asphalt records from law enforcement sources with access to the system.
Among Black Asphalt’s features is a section called BOLO, or “be on the lookout,” where police who join the network can post tips and hunches. In April, Aurora, Colo., police Officer James Waselkow pulled over a white Ford pickup for tinted windows. Waselkow said he thought the driver, a Mexican national, was suspicious in part because he wore a University of Wyoming cap.