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Auditor unveils expert panel to assess Banjo for racial/religious bias and privacy issues

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox sits down with Damien Patton, founder and CEO of Banjo, Daniel “Dan” Gelston, president of the broadband communications sector at L3 Technologies, and Shawn Newell, former University of Utah and Chicago Bears football player and vice president for Industrial Supply Company, at the 13th annual Utah Economic Summit at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 17, 2019.
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox sits down with Damien Patton, founder and CEO of Banjo, Daniel “Dan” Gelston, president of the broadband communications sector at L3 Technologies, and Shawn Newell, former University of Utah and Chicago Bears football player and vice president for Industrial Supply Company, at the 13th annual Utah Economic Summit at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 17, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Auditor John Dougall announced members of a hand-picked panel Tuesday that will assist in the audit of embattled event detection company and state contractor Banjo following revelations company founder and CEO Damien Patton had ties to a white supremacist group and acts of hate-motivated violence as a teenager.

The nine-member Commission on Protecting Privacy and Preventing Discrimination will participate in reviewing the state’s contract with Banjo and the “public safety application” the company has provided since closing a multimillion dollar contract with the state last summer.

Dougall’s office said “the circumstances surrounding the contract and the application pose several complex technical and societal issues, including issues of privacy and potential algorithmic bias.”

“This newly created commission is comprised of technical, public policy, business and public safety experts,” Dougall said in a statement. “It is designed to provide advice regarding the merits of an in-depth review of the state of Utah’s arrangement with Banjo and to help identify the scope of that review.

“The commission will also review any associated findings and recommendations. In addition, I hope the commission will identify actions that governmental entities should take to ensure their software systems protect Utahns’ privacy and prevent discrimination against them.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office announced in late April that an audit already planned for the company was being moved up and an appropriate, third-party contractor was being sought to conduct the assessment. That review will not only include evaluations of personal privacy protections stipulated in the state’s contract with Banjo, but will also be looking for any evidence of racial or religious bias in work already performed by the company.

Last summer, the state struck a $21 million contract with Banjo to aid first responders and law enforcement investigators in detecting incidents and crimes. The company says its technology can provide critical information and investigative direction by constantly gathering and processing massive amounts of data from multiple sources, including networks of video surveillance cameras, 911 call centers and emergency vehicle data that can be leveraged to get first responders to incidents faster and help solve crimes by saving police hours of old-fashioned detective work.

Dozens of Utah municipal agencies also entered into agreements with Banjo under state preferred-provider agreements. The state put its principal contract on hold following revelations of Patton’s past and Banjo has since announced it stopped processing information related to its Utah clients pending the audit’s outcome.

Dougall said the committee will assist in identifying what types of expertise will be needed to appropriately evaluate the work Banjo has already performed, which includes the use of complex computer algorithms to “see” and evaluate the various data streams it processes.

“Over the last few years we’ve become familiar with addressing data privacy audits,” Dougall told the Deseret News last month when the audit effort was announced. “But, we’ve never been called on to approach anything to determine an algorithmic bias.”

Commission members include: Amy Knapp, vice president of information security and compliance, O.C. Tanner; Berton Earnshaw, machine learning fellow, Recursion; Daniel Hardman, chief architect, Evernym; Suresh Venkatasubramanian, computer science professor, University of Utah, board member, ACLU of Utah; Jeanetta Williams, president, NAACP Salt Lake Branch; David Litvack, senior policy adviser, Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office, former Utah state representative; Sara Jones, CEO, InclusionPro; Rosie Rivera, Salt Lake County sheriff; Todd L. Hixson, chief, West Bountiful Police Department, vice president, Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

Court records and federal hate crime investigation documents detailing Patton’s association with a Ku Klux Klan faction and his involvement in violent actions directed at a religious group were first reported by online forum Medium’s technology news outlet OneZero. After becoming aware of the reporting, the facts of which Patton is not contesting, Reyes’ office announced suspension of the state’s contract with the company and called for further review.

At 17 years old, Patton was involved with a faction of the Ku Klux Klan and participated in a drive-by shooting of a Nashville synagogue on June 9, 1990. According to court records, Patton was driving the vehicle on that day as a Klan leader shot out windows of the synagogue with a semi-automatic weapon. No one was injured in the incident, but the gunfire was directed at a building not far from where the congregation’s rabbi was at the time.