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 formal agency response, the attorney general said he agreed with some of the findings.
“We are encouraged by your findings and feel validated that neither privacy intrusion nor racial or religious bias was inherent in the Banjo Live Time system. Your findings align with our experience regarding this company, its founder, priorities, work product, and ethics. We observed, and you have confirmed, that sensitive [personal identifying information] was never shared with Banjo. That protection was always a high priority for this office,” Reyes wrote.
But Reyes took issue with one thing the auditor’s office pointed out. It criticized the state for not vetting Patton’s past.
“As a preliminary matter, in RFPs such as the one in which Banjo participated, there is no requirement in the state procurement process for the UAGO to investigate companies and particularly not their employees. The UAGO, however, went above and beyond what is normally done for contractors including conducting interviews with colleagues, technology experts, leaders of other companies familiar with the CEO, law enforcement officials, elected officials, etc. The subsequent negative information that came out about Mr. Patton was contained in records that were sealed and/or would not have been available in a robust criminal background check,” Reyes said. “Based on our first-hand experience and close observation, we are convinced the horrible mistakes of the founder’s youth never carried over in any malevolent way to Banjo, his other initiatives, attitudes, or character.”
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: