AI Company Has Access To Pretty Much Every Piece Of Surveillance Tech The State Of Utah Owns

from the good-time-was-had-by-all-surveilled dept

A stash of documents obtained from Utah government agencies has exposed another surveillance tech purveyor who's threatening to disrupt privacy for unquantified law enforcement gains. Banjo is the innocuous name the company does business under, led by a CEO sporting a ZZ Top beard and an urban camo sports coat.

The public this is going to affect wasn't cut in on the deal. But nearly everything their tax dollars pay for was. Banjo's proprietary panopticon -- with servers located on Utah government property -- draws from nearly every piece of surveillance tech already deployed by cities and law enforcement. Banjo's contribution is the algorithms it drops on top of all of this:

The state of Utah has given an artificial intelligence company real-time access to state traffic cameras, CCTV and “public safety” cameras, 911 emergency systems, location data for state-owned vehicles, and other sensitive data.

The company, called Banjo, says that it's combining this data with information collected from social media, satellites, and other apps, and claims its algorithms “detect anomalies” in the real world.

This isn't surveillance creep. This is a surveillance sprint.

Banjo has installed its own servers in the headquarters of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), a civilian agency, and has direct, real-time access to the thousands of traffic cameras the state operates. It has jacked into 911 systems of emergency operations centers all over the state, according to contracts, emails, and other government documents obtained by Motherboard using public record requests, as well as video and audio recordings of city council meetings around the state that we reviewed.

There's more to it than this long list. Banjo also pulls in data from social media, autonomous vehicles, flight info, and "data signal ingestion for IoT sensors." Anything that crosses the internet or the state's government intranets is converted into data points for Banjo's thirsty software.

The state of Utah has already agreed to sprinkle Banjo's surveillance dust over all 29 counties in the state, as well as its 13 largest cities and 10 other cities that have the misfortune of being deemed "significantly relevant" to the state's spyware deployment plans.

Banjo promises a mixture of predictive policing and real-time alerts, with an eye on the worst crimes of course. Banjo's reps and executives talk a lot about how much child abduction this thing could stop -- or at least bring to an end quickly. But there's nothing on the record showing Banjo has done any crime prevention or crime solving, despite the breadth of its access and the state's explicit blessing of its unproven tech.

Banjo also literally unbelievably claims it can do all of this without engaging in massive amounts of privacy violations. It says it anonymizes all data it scoops up from dozens of sources, pointing cops at crime, rather than people. First of all, anonymization is a myth that has been debunked several times. Second of all, this:

Banjo's pitch to Utah from the beginning has been that it finds crime without identifying criminals. It looks for cars without looking for who is inside the cars. It detects riots and protests without telling cops who is at them. It detects drug use hotspots without identifying the drug user. Patton often mentions his company has patented technology to strip PII from publicly available data, but patents Motherboard found do not go into detail about how that is done.

Pitching its product, Banjo talks a lot about child abductions, mass shootings, acts of terrorism… all the things we always hear about when law enforcement wants to extend its reach and grasp. Plenty of surveillance tech has been purchased using these noble goals, only to be deployed to do normal crime stuff like seek out drug dealers and robbery suspects. Meanwhile, the sacrifices made in the name of public safety haven't resulted in net public safety gains, and mass shootings (in particular) still routinely go unthwarted, no matter how much round-the-clock surveillance is in place.

Banjo says it will save lives -- the only metric it claims to care about. So far, it can't even seem to solve crimes.

While it's still very early days for its implementation in Utah, we have no idea whether it has been useful in the real world. [Attorney General Chief of Staff Ric] Cantrell couldn't identify a single case that Banjo's technology had helped on. A public records request sent to Utah's Highway Patrol requesting any case reports in which Banjo was used returned no documents. Police departments who have signed up for Banjo told Motherboard that they have not actually used it.

While it's true the state won't know how effective Banjo is until it deploys it, that doesn't explain its willingness to deploy it all over the state before it has any idea how well it's going to work and what negative side effects turning everything into fodder for surveillance software might produce. That's incredibly irresponsible and it indicates the state clearly didn't factor residents' concerns into the equation.

Filed Under: facial recognition, law enforcement, privacy, social media, surveillance, utah
Companies: banjo


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 4:25am

    My oh my. Banjo has certainly grown up since Alabama...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Kal Zekdor (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 5:32am

    Do you want Samaritan? Because that's how you get Samaritan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 6:02am

    How Reminiscent

    "Cantrell couldn't identify a single case that Banjo's technology had helped on. A public records request sent to Utah's Highway Patrol requesting any case reports in which Banjo was used returned no documents. Police departments who have signed up for Banjo told Motherboard that they have not actually used it."

    Anybody seen the contract to check whether there's a total non-disclosure (a.k.a., deny-every-using) clause, a la Stingray?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    bynkman (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 6:33am

    You are being watched....

    The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered "irrelevant." They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you.
    [Person of Interest, 2011-2016]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 6:36am

    Re: You are being watched....

    The funny thing is, the Machine was actually properly black-boxed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    mrtraver (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 6:46am

    Re: You are being watched....

    Exactly my thought. Person of Interest was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to manual.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 7:17am

    Meanwhile, the sacrifices made in the name of public safety haven't resulted in net public safety gains, and mass shootings (in particular) still routinely go unthwarted, no matter how much round-the-clock surveillance is in place.

    In Utah? A bit of googling suggests there's approximately one mass shooting per decade, well below the national average.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:03am

    Re: Re: You are being watched....

    Was it? It kind of seemed like a "manual" of how to do mass surveillance right. (And then the last couple seasons, which fans generally agree were the weakest, introduced Samaritan and turned into a warning narrative about how to do it wrong.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:08am

    Re:

    well you're comparing a part of a whole to the whole itself.

    Utah can't get a rate above the national average, cause if Utah suddenly had more mass shootings it would skew the data and raise the national average.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:33am

    Re: Re:

    ...huh?

    For an average, you'd expect approximately half of the states to be below the average and half to be above. Perhaps you're confusing the concept with the aggregate (ie. sum total)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re:

    Math fail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 8:56am

    And let us not forget.....

    The big ass data center the NSA is building in Utah to conveniently store all that data......

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utah_Data_Center

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Code Monkey (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 9:05am

    I'll be impressed when....

    Banjo can detect Coronovirus (of course, without telling Utah the person that has it.....) :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    pvb, 6 Mar 2020 @ 10:13am

    Charles K. Edwards

    The indictment charges Charles K. Edwards, 59, of Sandy Spring, Maryland, and Murali Yamazula Venkata, 54, of Aldie, Virginia, with conspiracy to commit theft of government property and to defraud the United States, theft of government property, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment also charges Venkata with destruction of records.

    According to the allegations in the indictment, from October 2014 to April 2017, Edwards, Venkata, and others executed a scheme to defraud the U.S. government by stealing confidential and proprietary software from DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), along with sensitive government databases containing personal identifying information (PII) of DHS and USPS employees, so that Edwards’s company, Delta Business Solutions, could later sell an enhanced version of DHS-OIG’s software to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a profit.

    https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-acting-inspector-general-us-department-homeland-security-indi cted-theft-government

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 11:55am

    Re: And let us not forget.....

    A. Not "building". "completed in May 2019 at a cost of $1.5 billion."

    B. That's not state-owned so Banjo has no access to this data.

    C. That facility was built to house all the communications data it was hoovering up at the time but has since terminated huge portions of that data collection.

    Forget forgetting. Focus on knowing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:16pm

    When corruption is the better option...

    I actually hope that those who gave this the green-light have just been bought out, because if they're stupid enough to actually believe what Banjo is selling then I shudder to think of what else they could be conned into paying taxpayer money for..

    'Tiger repelling rocks for all, and for only 25% of the state's entire budget!'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Atkray (profile), 6 Mar 2020 @ 1:57pm

    Re: When corruption is the better option...

    Yeah about that... welcome to Utah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 2:13pm

    Re: I'll be impressed when....

    Like other awesome detection systems, it will then be detecting 99% false positives for anything significant, as most human coronavirii will merely cause a cold, rather than SARS (v2).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2020 @ 4:50pm

    Re: And let us not forget.....

    The big ass data center

    https://xkcd.com/37/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    HegemonicDistortion (profile), 7 Mar 2020 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    RIP John, RIP Root.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    fairuse (profile), 9 Mar 2020 @ 6:54am

    Re: Re:

    I'm not going to inform the masses what Root thinks about"The Machine". Hint: God was born on (..) and She has put me here (head shrink jail) to work on my methodology. Spoiler: Samaritan works without restrictions. "The Machine" has all kinds of restrictions.

    We will not get Roots God. The extra features on DVD release describe Banjo as near future tech - never named. Sorry, not science fiction anymore.

    This tech will lead to [insert sci-fi short film about device that removes selected memory in people] Note: Not talking about movie Paycheck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    fairuse (profile), 9 Mar 2020 @ 8:44am

    If a person cannot understand

    Utah has reason to toss money at Banjo. We may laugh but the folks in the community are quite serious about knowing everything. See religion.

    Happy to see Person of Interest getting referenced. I was freaking out it would be axed after season 1. May I suggest buying DVD set instead of streams? Theory is explained in features.

    Now the future of facial recognition via short scifi video that some do not understand. Hint: Need to forget a face? There is an app for that.

    https://youtu.be/KT_EuVyYmAg

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    fairuse (profile), 10 Mar 2020 @ 8:44am

    Re: You are being watched....

    Just to complete the warning : The Machine and Samaritan used humans to enforce their commands.

    The short film "IRIS" by Hasraf 'Haz' Dulull gives the AI weapons.
    How much should we let technology control?

    https://youtu.be/07uRfNSqV2A

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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