SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General's Office said Tuesday it was suspending a $20 million contract it had with the surveillance system Banjo after an online report detailed the company founder's history with a white supremacist group and a shooting at a synagogue.
"The Utah Attorney General’s office is shocked and dismayed at reports that Banjo’s founder had any affiliation with any hate group or groups in his youth. Neither the AG office nor anyone in the AG’s office were aware of these affiliations or actions. They are indefensible. He has said so himself," the office said in a statement to FOX 13.
"Attorney General Sean Reyes and the Attorney General’s office absolutely condemn the hate and violence promoted by supremacist groups and will continue to aggressively fight crimes and decry domestic terror perpetrated by them. While we believe Mr. Patton’s remorse is sincere and believe people can change, we feel it’s best to suspend use of Banjo technology by the Utah AG’s Office while we implement a third-party audit and advisory committee to address issues like data privacy and possible bias. We recommend other state agencies do the same."
A report by OneZero posted Tuesday said that Banjo founder Damien Patton had, as a teenager, been a member of a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and participated in a 1990 drive-by shooting at a synagogue in Tennessee. In a statement to the outlet, Patton acknowledged his past and said he has tried to make amends.
"Since then, I have tried and failed to completely accept and come to terms with how I, a child of Jewish heritage, became part of such a hateful, racist group. One thing I have done, through therapy and outreach, I have learned to forgive that 15 year old boy who, despite the absence of ideological hate, was lured into a dark and evil world. For all of those I have hurt, and that this revelation will hurt, I’m sorry. No apology will undo what I have done," he said in a statement to OneZero.
FOX 13 first reported on Banjo last year, when members of the Utah State Legislature began scrutinizing the surveillance system that scrapes together social media posts, traffic cameras and other sources of information to alert authorities to a potential crisis emerging. While lawmakers have been critical, the Utah Attorney General's Office has defended the tech saying it can help in an emergency and any data is anonymized. The AG's office has a $20 million contact with Banjo.
Earlier this year, FOX 13 reported that legislative leaders quietly declined a request to appropriate additional funding to Banjo. House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said he was contemplating legislation to regulate some of the tech.