Madison Square Garden Entertainment boss James Dolan may have stirred up a hornets nest of opposition to his policy of using facial recognition software to bar attorneys involved in litigation from entering the the Garden-owned venues.
Four attorneys who worked for firms that have pending litigation against entities owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment have been barred from entering either Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall over the past two months.
A wide number of local politicians and activists lined up against his policy at a press conference outside the Garden on Sunday blasting Dolan and calling for the controversial tactic to be halted immediately. MSG said attorneys working for such firms are in an “adverserial” position and should be barred until litigation is concluded, even if they are not associated directly with their firm’s legal suit vs. MSG.
“MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys from firms pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved,” MSG said in a statement. “While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment. All impacted attorneys were notified of the policy. We continue to make clear that impacted attorneys will be welcomed back to our venues upon resolution of the litigation.”
The coalition said venues should not possess the power to weaponize facial recognition to discriminate against patrons and steal their personal information. They believe the practice, contrary to MSG’s claims, has nothing to do with public safety and instead is being used to chill free speech, as well as violating privacy.
State Senator Liz Krueger said she asked the State Liquor Authority to look into pulling the MSG’s liquor license over its exclusionary stance. “There are very limited reasons to refuse to serve members of the public,” she told Straus News. And refusing to serve people you don’t like is not one of them, she added.
She also said she worries that if the MSG policy is not curtailed, others may copy it. “Right now, we think it is just Dolan’s policy,” she said. “But who knows how may other companies will say ‘we like the idea’.”
“What if they say we don’t like people of color, or who are gay or who are Jewish?’ she asked.
MSG claims it is not violating any laws in its use of the technology.
State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal who led the press conference outside the Garden on Sunday said, “There’s a parade of horrors that can come from abuse of this technology.”
“There’s a pattern of James Dolan punishing who he views as his corporate adversaries—attorneys who are employed at law firms that have active litigation against Madison Square Garden Entertainment. That is a frightening prospect for every New Yorker and frankly, every visitor to New York City who may come through the doors of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, or any other venue owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment,” Hoylman said
But he added there may not be strong enough laws on the books right now. “We don’t have adequate legislation. We are working on things to address this.”
“Where does this end?,” he asked. “Journalists? labor? people going to the grocery story?”
He also said that by booting lawyers whose firms are involved in litigation--even if they are not personally involved in the litigation “has an enormous chilling effect.”
He said, “We are calling on Dolan to immediately cease this activity.”
Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) said, “This is unethical, it is immoral and should be illegal.. We need to stop it.”
State Senator Brian Kavanaugh said he has long railed against the property tax exemption that was granted to MSG way back in 1986 which he says enabled the MSG entities to skip out on paying $40 million a year in property taxes. “They are claiming some kind of public benefit and they are engaging in this type of behavior,” said Kavanaugh. While he said he would stop short of an all out ban on facial recognition technology, since it has some positive uses in law enforcement to catch murderers or terrorists, he sees MSG’s use of the technology as an “abuse.”
“There is a parade of horrors that can come from the abuse of this technology.” NYS Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal