University of Utah terminates its contract with Banjo

(screengrab from Banjo company website) Park City-based Banjo has a contract with the state of Utah to create a live-time surveillance system to help law enforcement and other entities respond to situations faster. Some experts worry about privacy implications.

The University of Utah will officially stop doing business with Banjo by the end of the month.

In a letter sent to the surveillance company, the U.'s chief safety officer demanded the return of all documents and data sent to Banjo.

The university was part of a July 2019 state contract with the firm that was facilitated by the Attorney General’s Office. State agencies and local governments quickly began suspending business with Banjo when news emerged last week that the company’s CEO, Damien Patton, was a member of the KKK as a teenager and was the getaway driver in a synagogue shooting.

Banjo ingested social media posts, traffic cameras, 911 calls and other data to detect events like car crashes and other disasters. But some people raised alarms about the company months before revelations about Patton’s past, largely due to fears about privacy and state-sponsored surveillance.

“Banjo acknowledged receipt on May 1 and university data signals and sources feeds were disconnected that day," said U. spokesperson Chris Nelson in an email. "To confirm, student and employee info was never (nor was ever intended) to be shared with the company.”

The “signals” the university sent to Banjo included computer aided dispatch information from U. police and the feeds from about 50 security cameras, Nelson said.

The U. paid $500,000 a year for Banjo’s services.

Other Banjo contracts in Utah are on hold while the state auditor reviews the company’s software for bias and security. The process could take as long as a year. The Attorney General’s Office will not be terminating its contract before then, according to spokesperson Rich Piatt, but it will also not pay Banjo while services are on hold.