Utah Pulls Plug On Surveillance Contractor After CEO's Past As A White Supremacist Surfaces

from the belated-concerns-about-privacy-and-bias-are-better-than-no-concerns-at-all dept

A couple of months ago, a records request revealed a private surveillance contractor had access to nearly every piece of surveillance equipment owned and operated by the state of Utah. Banjo was the company with its pens in all of the state's ink. Banjo's algorithm ran on top of Utah's surveillance gear: CCTV systems, 911 services, location data for government vehicles, and thousands of traffic cameras.

All of this was run through Banjo's servers, which are conveniently located in Utah government buildings. Banjo's offering is of the predictive policing variety. The CEO claims its software can "find crime" without any collateral damage to privacy. This claim is based on the "anonymization" of harvested data -- a term that is essentially meaningless once enough data is collected.

This partnership is now on the rocks, thanks to an investigation by Matt Stroud and OneZero. Banjo's CEO, Damien Patton, apparently spent a lot of his formative years hanging around with white supremacists while committing crimes.

In grand jury testimony that ultimately led to the conviction of two of his associates, Patton revealed that, as a 17-year-old, he was involved with the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. On the evening of June 9, 1990 — a month before Patton turned 18 — Patton and a Klan leader took a semi-automatic TEC-9 pistol and drove to a synagogue in a Nashville suburb. With Patton at the wheel, the Ku Klux Klan member fired onto the synagogue, destroying a street-facing window and spraying bullets and shattered glass near the building’s administrative offices, which were next to that of the congregation’s rabbi. No one was struck or killed in the shooting. Afterward, Patton hid on the grounds of a white supremacist paramilitary training camp under construction before fleeing the state with the help of a second Klan member.

If you're wondering where the state of Utah's due diligence is in all of this, there's a partial explanation for this lapse: the feds, who brought Patton in, screwed up on their paperwork.

Because Patton’s name was misspelled in the initial affidavit of probable cause filed in Brown’s case — an FBI agent apparently spelled Damien with an “o” rather than an “e” — any search of a federal criminal court database for “Damien Patton” would not have surfaced the affidavit.

Now that his past has been exposed, the state of Utah has announced it won't be working with Banjo.

The Utah attorney general’s office will suspend use of a massive surveillance system after a news report showed that the founder of the company behind the effort was once an active participant in a white supremacist group and was involved in the shooting of a synagogue.

The AG's office can only shut down so much of Banjo's surveillance software. Other government agencies not directly controlled by the state AG are making their own judgment calls. The University of Utah is suspending its contract with Banjo, but the state's Department of Public Safety has only gone so far as to "launch a review" of its partnership with the company. City agencies and a number of police departments who have contracts with Banjo have yet to state whether they will be terminating theirs.

And the AG's reaction isn't a ban. The office appears to believe it might be able to work through this.

“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 attorney general’s office while we implement a third-party audit and advisory committee to address issues like data privacy and possible bias,” Piatt said. “We recommend other state agencies do the same.

It's refreshing to hear a prosecutor state that it's possible for former criminals to turn their lives around and become positive additions to their communities, but one gets the feeling this sort of forgiveness is only extended to ex-cons who have something to offer law enforcement agencies. Everyone else is just their rap sheet for forever, no matter how many years it's been since their last arrest.

The other problem here is the DA's office's tacit admission it did not take data privacy or possible bias into account before granting Banjo access to the state's surveillance equipment, allowing it to set up servers in government buildings, and giving it free rein to dust everything with its unaudited AI pixie dust.

These are all steps that should have taken place before any of this was implemented, even if the state had chosen to do business with a company with a less controversial CEO. This immediate reaction is the right step to take, but a little proactivity now and then would be a welcome change.

Filed Under: cctv, damien patton, precrime, predictive policing, surveillance, utah
Companies: banjo


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 2:26pm

    We need laws protecting people from others digging into their pasts, give people the right to know when it's done and any adverse decisions it leads to. Also if something could have been found before they hired him isn't that waived?

    The real vulnerability here is that gender or race discrimination may be shown by disparate treatment of people based on their supposed past. As for retaliation, any company that googles people has admitted to being aware if any applicant has filed a Title VII lawsuit, which is a key element in proving retaliation.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 4:12pm

      Nope

      For those of us who don't have anything like this in our background, no you don't get grandfathered into your position even though you violated the law and lied about it on your application. Your past has direct relations to your future and how much trust can be placed in you. Might as well ask for the police to notify you anytime they start investigating the murder you committed back when you were still young and dumb. People have the right to judge you on your actions. If you don't like that, stop making dumb choices.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 4:19pm

      Yeah, because when I think of what this country needs right now, I think of a “Right of Erasure”—oh, sorry, a “Right to be Forgotten” law~.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 7 May 2020 @ 5:46pm

      HAHA!

      Bad people should be outed. Always. I hire people, and literally always google them, and always will.

      There's no Title VII violation -- that only covers discrimination against a protected class. Being a racist shitbag and/or an all-around asshole isn't protected, as much as you may want it to be.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 7:52pm

      Re:

      "We need laws protecting people from others digging into their pasts, give people the right to know when it's done and any adverse decisions it leads to."

      They've been trying that in the EU, with laughable results.

      Generally, I'm in agreement that once a person's debt to society is paid then it should not haunt them. But, that's something better dealt with by changing the way employers react, or having them do more rresearch than a cursory Google search, than it is by trying to rewrite history.

      However - in this case the past is directly relevant. This isn't about the crimes per se, but about a history of hatred and prejudice that has the potential to direct affect the company's output and to negatively affect the lives of thousands of people. It's possible that the guy has genuinely changed, but it's also correct that the state decides to to pin the welfare of its citizens on the gamble that he's not actually a racist shitbag any longer.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 May 2020 @ 1:47am

      Re:

      "We need laws protecting people from others digging into their pasts, give people the right to know when it's done and any adverse decisions it leads to."

      Why? If what you've done is on public record then such a law would be the dictionary-definition of government censorship the way it has historically been practiced only in dictatorships.

      "The real vulnerability here is that gender or race discrimination may be shown by disparate treatment of people based on their supposed past."

      So government wanting to employ a contractor for security work shouldn't be allowed to know that said contractor has, in the past, been a white supremacy bona fide terrorist?

      I'm not sure why you'd want confirmed violent criminals to handle confidential government security work but I'd welcome a deeper look at your arguments. I'm sure it'll be illuminating.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 2:36pm

    Utah has a history of killing dark skinned people lately

    Utah tends to kill people of color far more often than other states when you consider how few of them actually live in the state. I wonder how many of these cases are tied to this company pointing officers at them before they end up dead.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 1:42pm

      Re: Utah has a history of killing dark skinned people lately

      If indeed "Utah tends to kill people of color" … I wonder if "people of color" in Utah commit a disproportionate amount of capital crimes and/or initiate deadly encounters with law enforcement.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 3:01pm

    If he didn't kill anyone and didn't try to kill anyone and wasn't using any wmd I think he's forgivable.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 4:14pm

      Re:

      You must not be a person of color. If you were, you would understand how that is not anything you can forgive since it is still a problem today and in Utah, it will still be a problem 20 years from now.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    seedeevee (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:08pm

    "He who is the first seveteen year old to not do dumb fucking shit gets to cast the first stone and make dumb fucking seventeen year olds unemployable" -- Tim Cushion

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:34pm

      Get high, shoot up a church, same thing right?

      I love how you're trying to portray 'joined a pack of racist losers, was the driver for shooting of a synagogue, hide like a gutless coward with said losers and then booked it out of the state' as 'dumb fucking shit', as though it's even remotely comparable to the usual idiocies that teenagers get involved in like drinking, smoking or screwing around.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 7:55pm

      Re:

      There's dumb shit I did as a teenager and "acting as the wheelman for the Klan to perform a drive-by shooting" dumb shit. They're nothing like the same level and need to be treated differently.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 May 2020 @ 1:53am

      Re:

      "He who is the first seveteen year old to not do dumb fucking shit gets to cast the first stone..."

      Great argument. Since I have never been a bona fide white supremacy terrorist running the getaway car for a bunch of racist would-be murderers I DO get to cast as many stones as I like, then.

      I've never smoked pot, done petty theft, or engaged in minor acts of vandalism either...but in those cases I'd at least go out on a limb and keep an open mind as to whether the offender in question grew into a more mature and responsible adult.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 6:22am

      Re:

      I know right?

      Who hasn't been involved in a racially-motivated drive-by shooting followed by crossing state lines to avoid arrest?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2020 @ 3:28pm

    Should've been pulled without this discovery being necessary! In fact, it should never have been started!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 May 2020 @ 3:38pm

    Better late than never, now about that followup...

    It is just all sorts of messed up that it took finding out that the CEO of the company involved ran with a bunch of racist losers as a teenager to put any sort of brakes on widespread violations of privacy, but if that's what it takes I suppose I'll take it and hope that the people running the planned audit haven't taken a blow to the head recently and rightly suggest that the program be scrapped in it's entirety.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 8 May 2020 @ 1:57am

      Re: Better late than never, now about that followup...

      "It is just all sorts of messed up that it took finding out that the CEO of the company involved ran with a bunch of racist losers as a teenager to put any sort of brakes on widespread violations of privacy..."

      It gets even better. Under current US law said CEO is a bona fide terrorist. So what you have is a government agency entrusting confidential mass surveillance in the hands of a criminal with a background in actively engaging in terrorist activity.

      Oops?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 May 2020 @ 11:38am

    thoughts

    1. Of course I hate all that the KKK stands for, but I also hate that people aren't forgiven for some crimes. While I won't be 1st in line to let a known, "former" chester watch my kids, I would like to see people who have truly repented/reformed be given an opportunity to re-earn trust in society.
    2. There could be a 3 party partnership between Banjo, Utah, & the Anti Defamation League (or the local Synagogues), in which Banjo could keep it's contract with Utah as long as they (Banjo) continually donate a certain amount of $ to the AD league.
    3. I hear banjo music...

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

    • identicon
      TFG, 9 May 2020 @ 6:53am

      Re: thoughts

      Given the type of thing this particular "former" Klans member is trying to sell to government, I don't think point 1. applies. Predictive Policing is just code for "perpetuating enforcement prejudices" which leads to believe that the Banjo CEO has not, in fact, truly repented.

      Repentance carries with it a necessary change in behavior. Sure, he hasn't been involved in any terrorist action since then, but that just seems to be because he moved on to wider forms of oppression.

      Point 2 - No. Just paying some money wouldn't fix this. Any three party partnership would need to place the third organization, necessarily an organization dedicate to privacy and civil rights, in a position of authority as opposed to merely a passive recipient of potentially dirty funds. If the ADL, or more preferably, the ACLU were an auditor with the power to veto actions and usages, then maybe it would be acceptable. And then only maybe. The whole thing should honestly just be scrapped, not because the CEO is a white supremacist, but rather because it's a massively wasteful violation of the public interest that offers no value to those actually interested in the safety and health of the public as a whole.

      I hear a kazoo.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 1:48am

      Re: thoughts

      "While I won't be 1st in line to let a known, "former" chester watch my kids, I would like to see people who have truly repented/reformed be given an opportunity to re-earn trust in society."

      And there's your first issue. Sure, the guy who did hard time for murder in his youth may be reformed but before you'd let him watch your kids you probably want to know him a little better. That he's paid for his crimes should mean he gets the chance to prove himself. Not that he's automatically somehow trusted. Like anybody else, really.
      A guy who actively engaged in what is defined as terrorism shouldn't get the sort of casual pass Patton apparently did. Hell, I'd expect anyone even considered for the sort of work he was commissioned for to have to pass scrutiny which would fail him if his record wasn't spotless for at least twenty years.

      Certain crimes just mean that the people, having paid their debt to society, can not be censored by society. If you wouldn't trust a guy to babysit your kids there is no way in hell you should trust that guy to build the system which would babysit everyone. It's that simple.

      "There could be a 3 party partnership between Banjo, Utah, & the Anti Defamation League..."

      For what purpose? The only good that would ever do would be to whitewash Banjo by linking them to a charitable cause. It wouldn't change Banjo or determine whether Patton was still the racist he apparently was well into his adult years.

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


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