New York attorney general voices concern over facial recognition

(NEW YORK) — A viral controversy over the use of facial recognition technology to bar customers from New York City performance venues has drawn the attention of the state’s top cop.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday sent a letter to Madison Square Garden Entertainment — the company that owns venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden – requesting information about the policy and raising the possibility that it could be illegal, James’ office said.

The letter also questions whether the facial technology is reliable and what safeguards are in place to avoid bias and discrimination, her office added.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, lawyer Kelly Conlon tried to join her daughter’s Girl Scout troop at a Rockettes performance but the venue scanned her face and barred her entrance.

Conlon reportedly appeared on an “attorney exclusion list” created by Radio City Music Hall’s parent company, MSG Entertainment, which bans employees at law firms engaged in litigation with the company, even if a given individual isn’t involved directly.

In this case, Conlon wasn’t involved directly, but her firm was engaged in litigation against one of the company’s restaurants, the New York Times reported. The incident at Radio City Music Hall was first reported by a New York affiliate of NBC.

In a separate incident at Madison Square Garden last month, another attorney was removed from a basketball game with the use of facial recognition software for the same reason as Conlon, the New York Post reported.

“MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” James said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect,” she added. “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 respond to a request for comment on the letter from James.

In a statement to ABC News earlier this month, a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment defended the company’s use of facial recognition software.

“Facial recognition technology is a useful tool widely used throughout the country, including the sports and entertainment industry, retail locations, casinos and airports, to protect the safety of the people that visit and work at those locations,” the spokesperson said.

“Our venues are worldwide destinations and several sit on major transit hubs in the heart of New York,” the spokesperson added. “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 for our customers and ourselves.”

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