Madison Square Garden faces probe over facial recognition blacklisting

The New York attorney-general is probing allegations that the owners of Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden arena used facial recognition technology to bar lawyers involved in litigation against the entertainment company from attending events.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to MSG Entertainment, which also owns Radio City Music Hall, the office of Letitia James said it had reviewed reports suggesting that thousands of lawyers across 90 firms had been banned from the company’s sites, violating civil rights law.

“MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” said James, whose office also raised concerns that the technology could discriminate against minorities. “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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, New York lawyer Larry Hutcher sued MSG in state court, alleging that the company had revoked his basketball season ticket and banned him from several venues after he began representing ticket resellers in a separate case against the business.

Several other attorneys involved in litigation against MSG told a Delaware court in November that they too had received letters barring them from MSG venues — a policy the judge in that case called “the stupidest thing I’ve ever read”.

Gregory Varallo, a lawyer in that case, told the court that MSG “used facial recognition software to come in and scrape all the web pages of all the firms involved and then used that facial recognition software at the Garden and other venues”.

He went on to mock “the idea that I’ve been found out — that my evil plan to go to the Garden and talk to the pretzel vendor about litigation strategy has been uncovered”, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

The move by the New York attorney-general came days after state senators introduced a bill designed to close a legal loophole and prohibit “wrongful refusal of entry” at sporting events.

“MSG’s use of facial recognition technology . . . is an unacceptable invasion of the privacy of all their patrons, and a blatant attempt to intimidate and bully those who might want to pursue their day in court against the company,” state senator Liz Krueger said on Monday.

“It is absolutely time for the city and the state to reconsider any and all permits, licenses and benefits provided to MSG in the face of their continued malfeasance.”

Senators also claimed MSG rescinded a local assembly member’s invitation to an MSG event after he attended a press conference over their use of facial recognition.

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