Utah pauses Banjo's AI surveillance after learning of owner's racist past

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Salt Lake City and parliamentary building in evening hour

Utah is putting its AI surveillance system on ice after learning of its creator’s background. The state has suspended (via Salt Lake Tribune) Banjo’s contract after learning from a OneZero report that company head Damien was part of the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan as a teenager and joined the racist group’s leader in an anti-Semitic drive-by shooting. While Patton has expressed remorse for his past, according to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, officials were concerned enough that they felt it was safer to put an advisory committee and independent audit in place to tackle concerns like privacy and “possible bias.”

Banjo’s deal with Utah lets it combine data from city infrastructure (such as public cameras and 911) with internet content to spot “anomalies,” theoretically detecting some crimes as they happen. The firm is supposed to strip all personal data from the system, but the methods and effectiveness aren’t clear. There’s also the matter of AI bias. Facial recognition systems sometimes have gender and race biases that lead to false matches — a particular problem when it could lead to wrongful arrests and confrontations.

Utah isn’t strictly backing away from its use of AI surveillance, but its move follows similar rejections of Clearview AI’s own facial recognition system. Even if governments don’t immediately object to the underlying privacy ramifications of this technology, they have growing concerns about the potential for misuse.