Civil Asset Forfeiture

Constitution Cramp Your Law Enforcement Style? Contract Out Your Civil Liberties Violations!


Elijah Bosley

As part of its series on the legalized theft known as asset forfeiture and the ways in which police agencies mug the public to pad their budgets (covered the other day by Scott Shackford), the Washington Post notes a "private" intelligence network founded by a former police officer. I use the scare quotes because, even though Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System is run by Desert Snow, an independent corporation founded by retired California highway patrolman named Joe David, it was created to work around legal limitations on what formal government programs can do, and is funded through contracts paid with tax dollars.

According to the Post:

Operating in collaboration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal entities, Black Asphalt members exchanged tens of thousands of reports about American motorists, many of whom had not been charged with any crimes, according to a company official and hundreds of internal documents obtained by The Post. For years, it received no oversight by government, even though its reports contained law enforcement sensitive information about traffic stops and seizures, along with hunches and personal data about drivers, including Social Security numbers and identifying tattoos.

The system also allows police to file "be on the lookout" reports, known as BOLOs, based on officer hunches—or potentially even grudges—and accessible to any agency that signs on. David and his staff have even pulled over cars and seized assets on a contract basis for local departments—an arrangement that got them threatened with arrest by one pissed off judge.

Even before Black Asphalt debuted in 2004, Desert Snow received "millions from federal contracts and grants as the leader of a cottage industry of firms teaching aggressive methods for highway interdiction." It continues to receive taxpayer funds, including $268,000 so far this year from Customs and Border Protection.

Black Asphalt is now nominally under the control of an Oklahoma sheriff's department to defuse concerns about its private nature. But it remains a way of outsourcing squirrelly police tactics by "privatizing" them to a company that exists to do on behalf of government agencies what they really aren't allowed to do themselves. In some ways, Black Asphalt resembles Vigilant Solutions' National Vehicle Location Service, which records and stores license plate records on behalf of agencies that then don't have to use their own resources or come up with their own privacy policies.

Why worry about oversight and civil liberties protections when you can outsource the dirty work and claim that your own hands are clean? Especially when, as with asset forfeiture, the results are so lucrative.

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  1. “David and his staff have even pulled over cars and seized assets on a contract basis for local departments?an arrangement that got them threatened with arrest by one pissed off judge.”

    That sounds like an interesting story.

    1. I wonder how the lawsuit is coming – since these private contractors are pretending they’re not ‘agents of the government’ they should be subject to full tort liability for their actions.

      1. Yep, that’ seems like the only upside – no immunity.

        1. Not sure if it’s much of an upside; even if you can sue them, they can still hand over everything to the cops. I’m figuring they’ll want a full release from liability in return for not handing everything over. Or some weird arrangement that sucks.

      2. They should have been shot and left to rot on the side of the road for committing armed robbery.

    2. Isn’t impersonating a police officer a crime?

  2. Another advantage is that once progressives see that an even nominally private-sector company is involved, they can vent their fury on that in order to preserve their faith in the omnibenevolence of government.

    1. It pisses me off that there are so many idiots who think that private prisons are entirely to blame for the U.S. incarceration rate. Who passes and enforces drug laws again?

      1. I made exactly that point to one of them. He first gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look and then, once he came to, used an appeal to ridicule on me.

      2. Actually, the private prison problem is largely a crony capitalism problem. Companies are given exclusive, non-compete contracts. Part of their incentives are based on how many people are incarcerated. A lot of them are giving kickbacks to judges, etc. There’s been a series of articles on this in a number of publications.

        1. I don’t deny they are part of the problem. But if they vanished overnight, it wouldn’t make a dent in our incarceration rate.

          1. Totally agree; I was adding to your point rather than disagreeing. Should have been clearer.

    2. They will only vent fury at them if they are unable to figure out a way to get them into a union.

      “they’re not cops, so they can violate your rights… but they’re in the cop union so their dues go to Dems.”

  3. We should applaud the WaPo for providing this incredibly valuable service to the nation. The Constitutional-Scholar-in-Chief will finally be able to learn about these abuses of the rights of the people, and muster every tool at his command to put an end to it.

    1. Maybe someone at the WaPo wants to do penance for all those times in which the paper was the missalette of government-worship.

      1. The ownership of the paper changed hands in the last couple of years.

      2. is rape-fellatio even possible?

  4. If the “private contractor” thing is intended to be a constitutional fig leaf for our Brave Law Enforcement Heroes, then it’s not a very effective one. I’d say that Desert Snow easily comes within the definition of a “state actor” under constitutional jurisprudence. They are both federally funded and work with government employees acting within their official capacities.

    The more difficult thing would probably be to find a plaintiff with standing to sue their pants off for a Fourth Amendment violation. And, of course, they’re going to challenge and stonewall any potential application of FOIA to themselves (which might be more successful).

    1. Interesting questions might arise for libertarians and anarcho’s in the context of privatizing police forces: What is the limiting principle on search and seizure, and what is the basis for this principle? I.e., Are private police actions governed by Constitutional or State law? Are violations to be entirely resolved through tort law?

  5. it was created to work around legal limitations on what formal government programs can do, and is funded through contracts paid with tax dollars.

    Holder will be presenting the RICO case against these guys to the press momentarily.

  6. Isn’t this part & parcel of “Socialism (or whatever you want to call it) version 2.0?”

    Instead of doing the dirty work yourself – insurance & banks – the businesses just become a “regulated” arm of the government.

    1. If only we had a word for that form of political economy.


        Fuck, just imagining some asshole saying that makes me want to punch someone in the face.

    2. That’s fascism. Which socialists love but won’t admit.

      1. Wouldn’t Obama just look dreamy in a Hugo Boss uniform?


      2. Oh yeah, then why did they spend so much time killing each other all across Europe, huh? Fascism and socialism are total opposites — like Protestants and Catholics.

        1. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “This word opposite, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Yet despite that, your analogy holds up. Protestants and Catholics differ over certain specifics of the theory and practice of Christianity, yet share fundamental tenets regarding the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and so on. Both are Christian faiths. Similarly, fascism and socialism are both based on control; it’s more a matter of whether government collaborates with business in controlling everyone else–essentially making business an arm of the government–or whether government controls business and government.


    Why do you hate murka?

    1. Because the Myrka almost killed the Fifth Doctor (and the two actors inside of it)

  8. Wouldn’t Obama just look dreamy in a Hugo Boss uniform?

    I like to picture him in stripes.

    1. Brooks, you FUCKING RACIST!

      Sad thing is, I know this is how dems would see that.

  9. OT: Why does screaming “RACIST!” win arguments? Even if one did hold the assumption that some races were inferior to others, what impact does that have on any argument?

    Do people really accept ad-homs as a valid argument now?

    1. People accept all kinds of logical fallacies as valid argument. See Shreeeek and Tony.

    2. Do people really accept ad-homs as a valid argument now?

      Yes. Ideas are judged not by their merit, but by the source. Scream “Racist” at someone and you invalidate their ideas. Racists are bad people and bad people cannot have good ideas. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. His ownership of slaves makes his support of liberty invalid. In fact, it makes the concept of liberty invalid. Because he was a slave owner.

      1. And it makes the concept of slavery invalid, because it is the opposite of (the invalid) liberty.

    3. I think people watch too many of these courtroom dramas and they think that, like in those shows, by pointing out bad things about a person you then invalidate their “testimony.”

  10. “…millions from federal contracts and grants…”

    The concept of federal grant money…has slowly, over many decades…caused more harm to freedom and liberty than anyone could have ever conceived.

    It is truly the entry tool for federal intervention into every corner of our lives, as well as a way around constitutional protections.

    And like a runaway train, there’s probably no stopping it.

  11. this private network seems to be under transition to the aegis Kane County (Ill) Sheriff’s Dept. (

    “The Black Asphalt Law Enforcement System is under transition to a new supporting law enforcement agency.
    Many enhanced features and support will be made available to users within the next few months.”

    Now about Kane County Sheriff’s Dept.

  12. A private contractor pulling people over and seizing assets? Sounds like someone wants to get shot in the fucking face for attempted felony carjacking.

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  14. my friend’s sister makes $83 an hour on the laptop . She has been fired for ten months but last month her payment was $12435 just working on the laptop for a few hours
    Find Out More. ??????

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