SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Utah Office of the State Auditor has released its review of the State’s contract with Banjo, Inc. after being asked to evaluate concerns regarding privacy and potential algorithmic bias.
Specifically, Attorney General Reyes requested the Office review the contract for Banjo’s public safety application Live Time. Officials say the circumstances surround Live Time posed several complex technical and social issues, including concerns regarding privacy and potential algorithmic bias.
The Office says there are a few key takeaways of the review, which include:
- The actual capabilities of Live Time appeared inconsistent with Banjo’s claims in its proposal. Other competing vendors might have been able to meet the lower expectations.
- It appears that Live Time lacked the advertised AI technology. Live Time appeared suited to aid a skilled analyst via the power of an enhanced dashboard.
- Because of the reduced capability of the Live Time system, it appears much less likely sensitive personally-identifiable information (PII) was accessed, transferred, and used improperly than was previously feared. Live Time appeared to lack the algorithmic sophistication that would have posed the risk of inappropriate discrimination.
- The architecture of Live Time’s access to certain public safety systems should not have been permitted based on existing industry best practices.
In June, State Auditor Dougall announced the formation of a Commission on Protecting Privacy and Preventing Discrimination (Commission) to assist in the Office’s review.
In February 2021, the Commission released two documents intended to help State and local government entities that are considering the procurement of advanced software technology. The two documents are:
- Software Application Procurement Principles for Utah Government Entities
- Questions from the Commission on Protecting Privacy and Preventing Discrimination
The application of these recently released principles to the original RFP likely would have avoided the pitfalls encountered.
Dougall says, “I recognize the challenges of finding innovative ways to better perform critical government functions. I also understand the complexities of translating one’s vision into operational tools. I commend government entities who continually strive to strengthen operations while saving money, despite the hurdles encountered pursuing those objectives.”
In April 2020, the Utah company Banjo came under fire after CEO Damien Patton admitted to being a part of a white supremacist group in Tennessee back in 1990.
State officials quickly pulled Utah out of one of the multi-million dollar contracts it had with Banjo and had begun reviewing another when the company suspended all of its contracts with the state.
In a statement, Banjo said, in part, “Banjo has decided to suspend all Utah contracts by not ingesting any government data or providing any services to government entities until an independent third-party audit has been contracted and completed.”
By early May, Banjo announced its founder and CEO, Patton, had resigned.