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Damien Patton, founder of surveillance startup Banjo, has a secret racist past



On June ninth, 1990, a younger Damien Patton took half in a drive-by taking pictures towards the West Finish Synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee, alongside a number one member of the Klu Klux Klan. No one was injured, however the occasion despatched Patton on the run from the authorities. A yr later he enlisted within the Navy, later turning into a NASCAR mechanic, against the law scene investigator, and at last, a Silicon Valley founder.

Right this moment, the Medium publication OneZero published an exposé of the total historical past of Patton’s racist previous. On account of an FBI agent’s spelling error, Patton’s youthful historical past with the Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan went unreported for a decade.

Patton began the social media surveillance firm Banjo a decade in the past. The corporate has since acquired $100 million in funding from Softbank. It additionally maintains a profitable contract with the state of Utah, the place it makes use of public knowledge to assist legislation enforcement. Banjo’s 2015 series C round from Softbank allowed the corporate to rent extra knowledge scientists and engineers, after its sequence B helped the corporate pivot from a social discovery app to a surveillance device utilized by legislation enforcement.

OneZero’s story was primarily based on courtroom paperwork that had Patton himself testifying earlier than a grand jury in regards to the occasions of June ninth. Reporter Matt Stroud’s story goes into element about who Patton was socializing with as a 17-year-old — a distinguished member within the racist Christian Id motion, and Leonard William Armstrong, the Grand Dragon of the Tennessee White Knights — and the piece options weapon purchases, paramilitary coaching camps, anti-Semitic hate crimes, and fleeing federal authorities. When he was 18, Patton enlisted within the Navy — the place he continued, by his personal admission, to affiliate with skinheads.

When contacted by OneZero in the midst of reporting, Patton offered an apology to OneZero and to The Verge by a spokesperson, which talked about that he’d gone by childhood abuse and homelessness. “One factor I’ve performed, by remedy and outreach, I’ve discovered to forgive that 15 yr previous boy who, regardless of the absence of ideological hate, was lured right into a darkish and evil world,” it reads partially. “For all of these I’ve harm, and that this revelation will harm, I’m sorry. No apology will undo what I’ve performed.”

Whereas the occasions Stroud describes came about within the late ’80s and early ’90s, the questions he raises about synthetic intelligence being biased by its creators are nonetheless extraordinarily related right now, amid a rising tide of nativism, anti-Semitism, and racism. “Privateness consultants have highlighted considerations about hidden racial biases within the sorts of A.I. techniques that Banjo employs,” Stroud wrote. “Deeply held beliefs will be deliberately or unintentionally baked into algorithms with real-world penalties.”

Banjo primarily operates in Utah, the place, in accordance with The Salt Lake Tribune, the corporate is “constructing a large actual time surveillance system.” That report, authored final month, additionally notes that Patton has frequently declined interview requests from the information media, hasn’t stated what knowledge is being collected, and has not disclosed what number of police departments are taking part. Shortly after OneZero’s story broke, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the state’s workplace of the legal professional basic would droop its use of Banjo in gentle of Patton’s previous.

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