When Madison Square Garden first admitted to using facial recognition technology to identify and remove the perceived enemies of the arena’s CEO, the first thought for many New Yorkers was: How is this legal?
According to New York’s top prosecutor, it may not be.
In a letter sent to MSG President James Dolan on Thursday, Attorney General Letitia James warned that the ban on ticketholders could violate a host of state and local laws, including human rights protections. She ordered the company to produce justification for its policy and proof that it was complying with the law within three weeks.
Since last year, Dolan has maintained a strict blacklist against attorneys with ongoing litigation against his venues, which also include Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theater.
Those on the list have found themselves booted from Knicks and Rangers games, as well as Rockettes performances, after their faces were detected by a library of images maintained by the corporation’s facial recognition software.
Even among those well acquainted with Dolan’s infamous capacity for spite, the practice has inspired outrage and confusion, comparisons to dystopian television, and disguise-based evasion attempts.
Earlier this week, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would expand a long-standing ban on “wrongful refusal of admission” to include sporting events.
In her letter, James said the policy – which covers roughly 90 law firms – may already violate the 1941 state civil rights law, which covers “legitimate theatres, burlesque theatres, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses.”
It could also be seen as an attempt to dissuade individuals from filing discrimination or sexual harassment suits against MSG – a potential violation of city and state laws against retaliation.
The attorney general also pointed to research suggesting that the software may suffer from racial and gender biases, which would make it bump up against New York City’s human rights laws.
“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,” James said.
A spokesperson for MSG Entertainment declined to provide a comment on the record.
In recent court cases, MSG has defended the “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.”
But so far, lawyers have had some success in reversing the bans. After multiple law firms brought suits last year, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the ban for concert halls and venues – but allowing the practice to continue at sporting events.
MSG is appealing the decision.