Madison Square Garden uses facial recognition against legal opponent

A hot potato: Facial recognition primarily occupies a security role, but one company has used it against a legal adversary. The incident could provide fuel for privacy advocates who have long criticized the technology out of concern for how organizations might employ it.

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment prevented a lawyer from attending a show with her daughter because she works for a firm currently suing one of its subsidiaries. The episode stoked controversy because the company identified the mother using facial recognition.

When Kelly Conlon accompanied her daughter on a Girl Scout field trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City over Thanksgiving weekend, security forced her to wait outside while the Girl Scouts and the other parents watched the Christmas Spectacular show. Radio City Music Hall owner MSG Entertainment used facial recognition to identify Conlon as an associate with Davis, Saperstein & Solomon – a New Jersey law firm fighting a personal injury case against a restaurant MSG owns.

Conlon isn’t involved in the suit – she doesn’t practice law in New York City – but MSG Entertainment banned everyone connected to the firm from attending events at its properties. Music hall security called her over the loudspeaker as soon as she went through the metal detector. Shockingly, venue staff knew Conlon’s name and occupation before she could identify herself.

The company claims to have notified all Davis lawyers of its rules more than once, but a partner with the firm called the policy collective punishment. Other firms previously sued MSG Entertainment over the practice, and Conlon believed Radio City Music Hall would grant her entry because of a judge’s order in one of those recent cases.

Davis is using the incident to challenge the company’s state liquor license, which requires it to admit members of the public barring security risks. Although facial recognition is mainly advertised for identifying potential security risks, Conlon said she posed none.

Multiple other groups have faced legal and other pushback over facial recognition this year. In February, the IRS stepped back from facial recognition to appease privacy advocates. Facebook began payouts to Illinois residents in May due to a 2015 lawsuit alleging the company stored users’ facial scans without permission. Around the same time, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office fined Clearview millions and ordered it to purge its facial recognition database after it collected UK citizens’ biometric data without properly informing them.

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