The following includes editorial content written by a retired Chief of Police and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.
NEW YORK CITY- The United States gets more dystopian by the day. In what can only be described as “Big Brother on steroids,” a mother who showed up with her daughter as part of a Girl Scout field trip to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall was banned from the venue as a result of facial recognition technology employed by the venue’s owner, Madison Square Garden Entertainment.
The incident is shedding light on the growing controversy behind facial recognition software.
NBC 4 in New York reports that the weekend after Thanksgiving, Kelly Conlon was accompanying her daughter’s Girl Scout troop as a chaperone to see the famous Rockettes perform the annual Christmas program at Radio City. When she attempted to enter the venue, things got strange.
While her daughter and the rest of the troop and their mothers were allowed into the venue to see the show, Conlon was banned from going inside.
Why? Because as she tried to enter, facial recognition flagged her due to her employer, a New Jersey-based law firm which is engaged in litigation against a restaurant which now falls under the auspices of MSG Entertainment.
“It was pretty simultaneous, I think, to me, going through a metal detector that I heard over an intercom or loudspeaker,” Conlon told the outlet. “I heard them say woman with long dark hair and a grey scarf.”
When she approached the entrance, she was asked her name and they demanded she produce identification.
“I believe they said that our recognition picked you up,” Conlon said.
According to a sign posted at the venue, facial recognition is used as a “security measure” to “ensure safety for guests and employees.” Conlon told NBC4 she posed no threat, however she was still removed from the venue with staff telling her it was because she was an attorney.
“They knew my name before I told them. They knew the firm I was associated with before I told them. And they told me I was not allowed to be there,” said Conlon.
Now clearly, as a private company, MSG is allowed to permit or ban whomever they wish from their properties. However to do so not out of safety concerns but because someone works for the wrong business?
Think of the repercussions if a company banned someone for something other than their employer, such as someone who holds a concealed carry permit. Or if they voted a certain way.
In the case of Conlon, she is an associate with the New Jersey law firm, whereby she said she has nothing to do with the litigation against MSG.
“I don’t practice in New York. I’m not an attorney that works on any cases against MSG,” Conlon said.
Despite that, Conlon, as well as a number of fellow attorneys at her law firm, as well as other employees in the firm have been banned by MSG.
“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. While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adverse environment. All impacted attorneys were notified of the policy, including Davis, Saperstein and Salomon, which was notified twice,” a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment said in a statement.
That in led to the following statement from a partner at the law firm, Davis, Saperstein & Salomon.
“This whole scheme is a pretext for doing collective punishment on adversaries who would dare sue MSG in their multi-billion dollar network,” said Sam Davis, a partner at Conlon’s law firm.
While other firms have sued over being blacklisted by MSG, a recent judge’s order would seem to have made it clear that ticketholders such as Conlon “may not be denied entry to any shows.”
Continuing the statement from MSG, it continued:
“In this particular situation, only the one attorney who chose to attend was denied entry, and the rest of her group—including the Girl Scouts—were all able to attend and enjoy the show.”
That didn’t satisfy Conlon, however.
“I was just a mom taking my daughter to see a Christmas show,” she told NBC4’s I-Team. “I did wait outside…It was embarrassing…it was mortifying.”
For Davis, however, the statement by MSG wasn’t going to fly and he is now challenging MSG’s license with the New York State Liquor Authority.
“The liquor license that MSG got requires them to admit members of the public, unless there are people who would be disruptive who constitute a security threat,” said Davis.
“Taking a mother, separating a mother from her daughter and Girl Scouts she was watching over—and to do it under the pretext of protecting any disclosure of litigation information—is absolutely absurd. The fact they’re using facial recognition to do this is frightening. It’s un-American to do this.”
MSG wasn’t impressed by Davis’s argument however and argued that safety is their highest priority, and the use of facial recognition technology is but one of the tools at their disposal to accomplish that. They also said they believe their policy complies with all applicable laws, including the New York State Liquor Authority.
Extreme Tech wrote the incident at Radio City Music Hall has privacy advocates apoplectic. For example, Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future has called for a national ban on the practice of using facial recognition technology for such purposes.
The outlet notes that thus far, most of the attention on facial recognition technology has focused on preventing governments and law enforcement agencies from expanding the use of such technology. Thus far, however, private businesses have avoided scrutiny. The case involving MSG may change that.
Fight for the Future advocates for “’all places of public accommodation’ to be free of facial recognition technology, which can be used by businesses to preemptively ban people who may have affiliations with competitors or, as in this case, legal rivals.”