Madison Square Garden Entertainment's use of facial-recognition technology is spurring new controversy this week, in the wake of news that Radio City Music Hall denied admittance to a lawyer who was attempting to take her daughter to a Rockettes performance.
“This is exactly why we need an outright ban on all use of facial recognition surveillance in places of public accommodation like bars, restaurants, retail stores, and music and sports venues,” Evan Greer, director of advocacy group Fight for the Future, stated.
The New York City-based privacy organization Surveillance Technology Oversight Project added that the lawyer's expulsion “highlights how venues can weaponize facial recognition to discriminate against patrons and retaliate against perceived whistleblowers.”
The turned-away lawyer, Kelly Conlon, works for the law firm Davis, Saperstein and Solomon, which is suing a restaurant owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment. Conlon is not herself involved in the litigation.
Conlon reportedly said she was called out of line as she was going through the metal detectors.
"I believe they said that our recognition picked you up," Conlon told NBC New York.
Radio City Music Hall has signage telling people about the use of facial-recognition technology.
“We have always made it clear to our guests and to the public that we use facial recognition as one of our tools to provide a safe and secure environment and we will continue to use it to protect against the entry of individuals who we have prohibited from entering our venues,” Madison Square Garden Entertainment stated this week.
Conlon isn't the only attorney prevented from attending events in a venue owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment.
Madison Square Garden Entertainment owner James Dolan recently began banning lawyers who work for firms that are suing any of the company's venues -- including the Beacon Theater, Radio City and some restaurants.
The venue defends its ban on plaintiffs' lawyers, stating: “While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment.”
The ongoing litigation focuses on the policy itself, and not the company's use of facial recognition technology, which is used by the company as an enforcement tool.
New York City currently regulates the use of biometrics, but doesn't prevent companies from using facial recognition. Instead, the city's biometric privacy statute, which went into effect last year, requires companies to post notices about their use of facial recognition technology, and prohibits companies from selling biometric identifiers.
Privacy advocates are currently trying to strengthen that law.
“We're calling on the city and state to go further,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, tells MediaPost, adding that he hopes lawmakers will outlaw the use of facial recognition in public places.
A recently drafted New York City bill would prohibit the use of biometric surveillance tech in places of public accomodation, according to a City Council staffer. That bill hasn't yet been introduced.
Such a law wouldn't be unprecedented. Lawmakers in Portland, Oregon recently passed an ordinance prohibiting private companies from using facial-recognition technology in stores, parks, and other places of public accommodation.