NY AG wants answers on Madison Square Garden’s use of facial recognition against legal opponents

Feb 12, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks executive chairman James Dolan watches the game during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Attorney General Letitia James has sent a letter to MSG Entertainment, the owner and operator of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, asking for information about its use of facial recognition to deny entry to attorneys at firms representing its legal opponents. James’s letter warns that the Orwellian policy may violate local, state and federal human rights laws, including those prohibiting retaliation.

MSG Entertainment’s facial recognition has been identifying and denying entry to lawyers from firms representing clients suing the company — whether or not those attorneys are directly involved in the cases. The company, led by CEO James Dolan (who also owns the New York Knicks and Rangers), has defended the policy, framing it as an attempt to prevent evidence collection “outside proper litigation discovery channels.” However, lawyers have called that rationale “ludicrous,” criticizing the ban as a “transparent effort” to punish attorneys for suing them.

The company has removed at least four lawyers from events at its venues since October — including at Knicks and Rangers games, concerts and Christmas shows. When passing through a metal detector, the arena’s facial recognition matched the attorneys with photos from their firms’ websites. James’s office says the policy impacts all lawyers working at more than 90 firms.

In the letter, James warns MSG Entertainment that blocking people from venues may violate New York’s civil and human rights laws while causing other attorneys to think twice about taking on legitimate cases against the company. “MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” said AG James. “Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect. 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.”

MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan

USA TODAY USPW / reuters

The Attorney General isn’t alone in taking on Dolan and MSG Entertainment. New York state lawmakers Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Liz Krueger and Tony Simone introduced a bill on Monday to outlaw the policy. It would amend a previous state civil rights law prohibiting venues from denying entry to anyone with a legitimate ticket, adding “sporting events” to the list of qualifying…

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