Credit and debit cards do not fall under the Fourth Amendment, a U.S. federal appeals court has found.
In fact, law enforcement officers don’t need a warrant to scan or swipe a seized credit or debit card—prepaid or otherwise—because its magnetic stripe contains the same information that’s already visible on the front of the card, according to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court’s ruling is the latest addition to the ongoing civil asset forfeiture case involving a man named Eric-Arnaud Benjamin Briere De L’Isle, who was pulled over in Nebraska in 2014 for a driving infraction and then searched for drugs. No drugs were located in De L’Isle’s car, but the sheriff’s deputy seized a duffel bag full of credit, debit and gift cards—some of which still “in wrapping utilized by the issuing company to display the cards in retail stores.”
During his trial, De L’Isle’s lawyer argued that seizing the cards was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which the judge rejected but preserved on appeal. De L’Isle was eventually convicted of one count of possession of counterfeit devices and sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Now, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the cards do not fall under the Fourth Amendment since the cards “are used in daily transactions, and therefore “have no expectation of privacy.”
So where does digital currencies, such as bitcoin, fit in this?
Cryptographically secured money, like the not-real-money bitcoin, may be the key to ensure that unnecessary and potentially abusive seizure of assets is less likely to happen, especially in areas like the United States, where law enforcement officers already possess devices that allow them to seize and freeze funds from debit cards, even without filing criminal charges. And now this—a court decision allowing police to seize non-cash assets even without search warrants.
This scenario could further contribute to the surge in bitcoin price—not that it needs any more help. The price of bitcoin already hit $737.13 on Thursday, with more than 15.66 million bitcoins in circulation.