March 12, 2020

NEW: Report Finds Utah AG “Effectively Acted as Lobbyist” for Secret Surveillance Company

A recent special report for The Salt Lake Tribune revealed Utah’s Republican AG Sean Reyes’ close ties to surveillance and data-collection company, Banjo, that is raising a lot of questions and posing some serious concerns for Utah voters.

According to the report, Reyes, who is up for re-election this November, “struck up a cozy relationship” with a company building a “massive real time surveillance system” that “listens to 911 calls throughout the state. It monitors traffic cameras. The location of police cars. Your social media. And more.”

And it appears Reyes created this relationship through improper channels:

“In November 2018, the attorney general’s office worked to bypass the normal procurement process to secure a sole-source, $750,000 contract with Banjo, according to emails The Tribune obtained through a public records request.”

Even more telling, according to The Tribune, Banjo’s lobbyist used to work for AG Reyes’ Chief of Staff, and previously served as Executive Director of the Utah Republican Party. Reyes is simply doing his friends some favors—and bending the rules to do it.

This is a clear example of the kind of corruption and dealing that has no place in the Utah Office of Attorney General.

Although providing resources to law enforcement is critical to keeping Utah communities safe, it’s deeply concerning to security experts, professors, and civil libertarians that this Reyes’ sponsored surveillance is untested and unregulated. Even Utah’s House Majority Leader, from Reyes’ own party, called the technology “Orwellian” and “North Korea-esque.”

…I think there is potential danger there in a number of ways”– Sean Lawson, an associate professor at the University of Utah who teaches courses on topics like surveillance and counterterrorism.

With Utahns privacy potentially being unknowingly violated, there is little evidence the system is effective:

“State agencies have yet to use Banjo in any real-world crime situations that prove the technology’s effectiveness.”

There are BIG questions left unanswered. Utah voters deserve to know how their personal data is being used or misused—and they deserve to have an Attorney General who isn’t profiting off their personal data. With an election this Fall, Utah voters might just opt out of electing Sean Reyes and vote for new leader who will protect the public and their right to privacy.

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