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Utah State Auditor says Banjo's claims inconsistent with reality

BANJO
Posted at 10:13 AM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 19:58:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — A new review by the Utah State Auditor has concluded that some of the artificial intelligence surveillance company Banjo's claims did not live up to reality.

The review was requested by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes following scrutiny of the company's tech by members of the Utah State Legislature and disclosures that Banjo's now-former CEO, Damien Patten, had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan as a teen and participated in a drive-by shooting at a Tennessee synagogue.

At the time, Banjo's multi-million dollar contract with the attorney general's office was suspended.

Utah State Auditor John Dougall's review, released Tuesday, found that Banjo's claims of "Live Time," its system that would scrape data from government sources and social media, was inconsistent with its actual capabilities. He criticized the attorney general's office for not verifying it.

"The AGO should have verified these claims before issuing a significant contract and recommending public safety entities to cooperate and open their systems to Banjo," Dougall wrote. "Other competing vendors might have been able to meet the 'lower' standard of actual Live Time capabilities, but were not given consideration because the RFP responses were judged based on 'claims' rather than actual capability."

Dougall was more direct in a highly-touted example of Banjo solving a simulated kidnapping case.

"The touted example of the system assisting in 'solving' a simulated child abduction was not validated by the AGO and was simply accepted based on Banjo’s representation. In other words, it would appear that the result could have been that of a skilled operator as Live Time lacked the advertised AI technology," he wrote.

The review also concluded that Banjo lacked the advertised artificial intelligence technology, and because of that there was less sensitive personally-identifiable information accessed as previously feared.

"The architecture of Live Time’s access to certain public safety systems should not have been permitted based on existing industry best practices," Dougall wrote.

FOX 13 first reported on Banjo's system back in 2019, when Republican and Democratic members of the Utah State Legislature's powerful Executive Appropriations Committee became alarmed at the system's capabilities. The House Majority Leader called it "North Korea-esque" in its surveillance capabilities.

The Utah Attorney General's Office defended Banjo and its capabilities to help alert law enforcement to emerging threats and crisis. But lawmakers threatened more oversight and cut funding to the program. Earlier this year, a bill was passed to provide more data privacy protections in the state in response to the Banjo controversy.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Reyes' office defended its role in pushing Banjo.

“The Attorney General's Office asked for this review and agrees with most of the commission's findings. We commend the commission for their excellent work in producing two documents that will help state agencies evaluate new technology. The commission confirmed what we always knew, that people's private information was not at risk," the statement to FOX 13 said.

"The Attorney General's Office maintains its essential and integral commitment to the liberties and rights of all Utah citizens. Chief among these is the freedom from predators and other crime and we believe this system, had it been fully built out, would have saved lives. We will continue to use new technology to keep Utahns safe, and will utilize the commission's guidelines in the process."

The Utah Attorney General's Office has not said what it intends to do with Banjo's existing contract. State records suggest the company itself is no longer in business.

Read the full review here: