MSG Allegedly Used Facial Recognition to Remove Rival Attorney From Rockettes Show

A privacy expert told Gizmodo this was one of the first instances of a private firm using facial recognition to retaliate against an opposing lawyer.

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Image for article titled MSG Allegedly Used Facial Recognition to Remove Rival Attorney From Rockettes Show
Photo: Astrid Stawiarz (Getty Images)

An attorney working for a law firm taking legal action against MSG Entertainment claims she was spotted by the company’s facial recognition security system while attending a Rockettes show with her daughter and was ultimately denied entry. The case, one of the first of its kind according to a privacy expert speaking with Gizmodo, sheds light on an underreported practice of private companies using biometric identification systems to carry out retaliatory policy prescriptions amid a wildly under-regulated biometrics environment.

The lawyer, a mother named Kelly Conlon, reportedly traveled to New York City with her daughter as part of a Girl Scouts field trip to see “The Christmas Spectacular.” Conlon claims she was apprehended by the venue’s security staff immediately after walking through metal detectors and asked to say her name and provide an ID. One of the guards, Conlon said in an interview with NBC New York, allegedly told her she was “picked up” by their recognition system.

Conlon told NBC New York she saw signs on the wall alerting guests facial recognition was in use. For context, MSG Entertainment, which runs Radio City Music Hall, reportedly started introducing facial recognition to venues in 2018 in an effort to “bolster security.” Since then, the technology’s grown increasingly popular at live events and large sports stadiums.

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“They knew my name before I told them,” Conlon told NBC New York.” They knew the firm I was associated with before I told them. And they told me I was not allowed to be there.”

Conlon told the publication she works as an associate with Davis, Saperstein and Solomon, a New Jersey-based firm that has spent the past four years engaged in personal injury litigation against a restaurant venue owned by MSG Entertainment.

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“It was embarrassing, it was mortifying,” Conlon said. “I was just a mom taking my daughter to see a Christmas show.”

In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, MSG Entertainment defended its practices and said it maintains a “straightforward policy that precludes attorneys pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues.”

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“While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adverse environment,” MSG added. “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.

When asked about its facial policies MSG said the biometric identified is just one of several tools it used in its facilities.

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“We have always made it clear to our guests and to the public that we use facial recognition as one of our tools to provide a safe and secure environment and we will continue to use it to protect against the entry of individuals who we have prohibited from entering our venues.”

While abusive uses of facial recognition by police and federal agencies has gained the lion’s share of attention in recent years, Conlon’s case points to a parallel growing trend of private companies implementing those same systems, often with little meaningful oversight. Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said he wasn’t aware of other cases where companies used facial recognition to retaliate against opponents but warned there’s really nothing stopping the same thing from occurring in the future under current laws.

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“These technologies are ripe for abuse, and it’s long past time that New York City outlaw facial recognition,” Fox Cahn said. “Giving companies, the wealthy, and the government the ability to track nearly anyone at any time is a recipe for disaster. No one should fear that they’ll be banned from public life simply because they fight for their client’s rights in court.”

Though New York has, at least technically, tightened restrictions on facial recognition’s use in some areas like schools and made incremental transparency efforts, it nonetheless stopped short of implementing the types of city-wide bans seen in places like Oakland and Boston. Even those cities, however, do little to stop private business from implementing the tech and using it against those they see fit.

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“I’m terrified of a world where every corporation can retaliate against whistleblowers and even those leaving bad reviews by banning them going forward,” Fox Cahn said.

And that world seems to be coming. Surveillance firms previously interested in working with law enforcement adapt their technology to serve the private sector. Clearview AI, one of the world’s most notorious facial recognition companies, recently announced its intention to pivot to selling its one-to-one “Clearview Consent” facial match system to schools, banks, and other private firms. Those types of environments allow surveillance firms the opportunity to stay afloat in the security business while distancing themselves from police and other law enforcement groups who’ve burned public trust in recent years. At the same time, firms like MSG risk welcoming a similar wave of consumer trust by essentially monitoring their every move.

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“Radio City is on Santa’s surveillance naughty list,” Fox Cahn said. “Mass surveillance isn’t exactly in the holiday spirit.”

Update 12/21/22 1:43 P.M.: Added statement from MSG Entertainment.