Position Statement on CEO of Surveillance Firm Banjo’s Troubling Involvement with the KKK

Submitted by Nimrat Dhillon and Mridutpal Bhattacharya, Research Interns.

Brief Summary

  • OneZero, a publication of the Medium has exposed the anti-Semitic and racist past of Damien Patton, the founder of the surveillance firm Banjo (a company working to help the law enforcement with the use of AI), who has admitted to being involved in the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in his youth and was a party to the shooting of a synagogue in 1990.


Patton’s Past

  • Damien Patton has always claimed to have a troubled childhood and the details about his life up to the age of 18 years are very vague. After having troubles at home in his teenage years, Damien became acquainted with members of the white supremacist hate group, Ku Klux Klan and fell into the group’s belief of hating the Blacks and the Jews and eliminating them from America. This was ironically sad because Patton belongs to a Jewish heritage himself.

  • Just before he was about to turn 18, Patton and fellow Klan member, Leonard William Armstrong, were involved in a shooting at a synagogue in Nashville. Patton was behind the wheel and Armstrong fired the bullets onto the synagogue. Fortunately, there were no casualties from this shooting. Patton is also connected to another incident of spray-painting buildings with “KKK” and swastikas. In relation to the shooting, Patton was found to be guilty but did not receive any sentence to serve time behind the bars.

  • At 18 years of age, Patton enlisted in the US Navy and he states that this is what brought focus into his life and made him change his ways forever. However, accounts show that he was in touch with his white supremacist friends during his stint in the Navy as well.

  • But Patton got away with this disturbing past for all these years because an FBI agent spelt his name with an “o” rather than an “e”, letting his actual name be clear of any records of the troubles he got into.


The Rise and Fall of Banjo

  • Patton co-founded Banjo and has raised nearly $223 million in the past decade, from prominent venture capital firms such as SoftBank. Banjo’s software functions as an “event-detection engine,” and the company claims that more than 1 billion public social media accounts are scrutinized and their posts are organized by time and location. But the company had to start actively working with AI in order to help law enforcement.

  • Recently, the company came under negative light for contracting with the state of Utah and accessing their surveillance cameras, 911 emergency calls and other crucial such information. Patton claimed that this was done in order to alert the law enforcement agencies about various crimes and help save lives.

  • Privacy experts have shared concerns about hidden racial biases in the types of AI systems that Banjo employs because of Patton’s history, the idea behind it being that racial biases can occur unintentionally as well. But Patton has assured that he has spent his entire adult life making amends and will continue to do so.


Conclusions

  • Patton has assured the world that he has turned his ways around and is working hard to make the world a better place and do some good. But it makes us wonder if such seemingly inherent characteristics can truly go away and with Patton hiding his true past for all these years, it definitely puts a big question mark on his and his company’s work. The use of AI to help law enforcement is truly a novel idea, but if there is a racial bias involved in the techniques, it brings down the whole motive of the work.

  • The fact remains & the question arises as to if the surveillance systems & AI his company worked upon is biased in the same manner as he is. We believe another answer is "Probably not" because no matter what this man's social inclinations & beliefs might be, he is the CEO & it is highly unlikely that he must have programmed the AI(s) by himself or maybe he could have had some direct involvement - which is unclear yet. It can be nevertheless fathomed that the employees of his company did that work & it could be unlikely that all his employees shared his beliefs unless he recruited them based on their white supremacist ideologies in which case the company would have been reported against in the first place because ideological motives have an important role in determining the actions of people.

Although the chances of the AI being biased is slim, it is not impossible it's just improbable. But nevertheless, the skepticists of AI & the individuals against the advent & development of AI will undoubtedly take this instance as a reason why AI should not be brought into law enforcement in the first place since it can be biased owing to men like Patton who themselves are biased, & it's imperative that if the creator, the programmer is biased the creations shall also be. Thus, in this case, another point of discussion or perhaps argument gets added to the everlasting debate on Artificial Intelligence. 


To understand the development, please refer to https://link.medium.com/eFKOEFqD55

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