NY AG Letitia James presses MSG over use of facial recognition technology

State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during Martin Luther King Jr. Day at National Action Network House of Justice Headquarters.

Lev Radin | Lightrocket | Getty Images

New York Attorney General Letitia James wants to hear from Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation about the company’s reported use of facial recognition technology at its venues.

MSG Entertainment has reportedly used the technology to identify and deny entry to multiple lawyers affiliated with law firms involved in ongoing litigation relating to the company, including those with season tickets. According to a letter she sent the company Tuesday, approximately 90 law firms were impacted by this policy.

The prevention of lawyers from accessing MSG Entertainment’s venues due to ongoing litigation could violate local, state and federal human rights laws, James wrote.

MSG Entertainment owns and operates venues across New York including Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Hulu Theater.

“MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” James said Wednesday in a release announcing her letter. She’s seeking a response from MSG Entertainment by Feb. 13.

“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 said. “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.”

Madison Square Garden Entertainment responded to the letter later Wednesday.

“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. We are merely excluding a small percentage of lawyers only during active litigation,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

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

James Dolan Executive Chairman and CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, speaks at a news conference from the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York, May 17, 2021.

Mike Segar | Reuters

MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan on Thursday said he would not back down on the facial recognition fight. “Not at all,” he told Fox 5’s “Good Day New York.”

He also took a shot at the New York State Liquor Authority, saying the regulatory has been in touch with the company, threatening to take away its liquor license.

“So I have a little surprise for them. They’re basically doing this for publicity, so we’re going to give them some publicity. What we’re going to do, right, is we’re going to pick a night, maybe a Rangers game, and we’re going to shut down all the liquor and alcohol in the building,” Dolan said. “This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Instead, he said, MSG would post signs telling fans that if they’d like to drink at a game, they should contact Sharif Kabir, the liquor authority’s CEO. Dolan held up a mockup of a sign, which includes Kabir’s email address and a phone number.

CNBC has reached out to the SLA for comment.

In her letter, the attorney general also wrote that facial recognition software used by MSG Entertainment may not be fully reliable and could result in instances of discrimination and bias, particularly against people of color and women.

The company has said in the past it’s been compliant with applicable laws, including those involving discrimination.

Late last year, Kelly Conlon and her daughter were denied entry to Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular show after she was identified by facial recognition software. Conlon is an associate with law firm Davis, Saperstein and Solomon, which has been involved for years in personal injury litigation against a restaurant venue under MSG Entertainment.

“MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved,” a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment said at the time. “While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adverse environment.”

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