New York attorney general voices concern over facial recognition

Letitia James sent a letter to Madison Square Garden Entertainment on issue.

January 25, 2023, 4:36 PM

A viral controversy over the use of facial recognition technology to bar customers from New York City performance venues has drawn the attention of the state's top cop.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday sent a letter to Madison Square Garden Entertainment -- the company that owns venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden - requesting information about the policy and raising the possibility that it could be illegal, James' office said.

The letter also questions whether the facial technology is reliable and what safeguards are in place to avoid bias and discrimination, her office added.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, lawyer Kelly Conlon tried to join her daughter's Girl Scout troop at a Rockettes performance but the venue scanned her face and barred her entrance.

Conlon reportedly appeared on an "attorney exclusion list" created by Radio City Music Hall's parent company, MSG Entertainment, which bans employees at law firms engaged in litigation with the company, even if a given individual isn't involved directly.

In this case, Conlon wasn't involved directly, but her firm was engaged in litigation against one of the company's restaurants, the New York Times reported. The incident at Radio City Music Hall was first reported by a New York affiliate of NBC.

In a separate incident at Madison Square Garden last month, another attorney was removed from a basketball game with the use of facial recognition software for the same reason as Conlon, the New York Post reported.

PHOTO: New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference, Sept. 21, 2022, in New York.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference, Sept. 21, 2022, in New York.
Brittainy Newman/AP, FILE

"MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas," James said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect," she added. "Anyone with a ticket to an event should not be concerned that they may be wrongfully denied entry based on their appearance, and we're urging MSG Entertainment to reverse this policy."

In a statement to ABC News about the letter, a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment rebuked the suggestion that the facial recognition policy may be retaliatory or illegal.

“To be clear, our policy does not unlawfully prohibit anyone from entering our venues and it is not our intent to dissuade attorneys from representing plaintiffs in litigation against us," the spokesperson said. "We are merely excluding a small percentage of lawyers only during active litigation."

"Most importantly, to even suggest anyone is being excluded based on the protected classes identified in state and federal civil rights laws is ludicrous," the spokesperson added. "Our policy has never applied to attorneys representing plaintiffs who allege sexual harassment or employment discrimination.”

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