Madison Square Garden uses facial recognition against a legitimate opponent

Hot potato: Facial recognition primarily plays a security role, but one company has used it against a legal adversary. The incident could galvanize privacy advocates who have long been critical of the technology, fearful of how organizations might use it.

Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment prevented lawyer from attending the show with her daughter because she works for a firm that is currently suing one of its subsidiaries. The episode caused 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 had her wait outside while the Girl Scouts and other parents watched the Christmas Spectacular. Radio City Music Hall owner MSG Entertainment used facial recognition to identify Conlon as a partner in Davis, Saperstein & Solomon, a New Jersey-based law firm pursuing a personal injury case against a restaurant owned by MSG.

Conlon is not involved in the lawsuit — she does not practice law in New York — but MSG Entertainment has banned anyone associated with the firm from attending events at its property. Music hall security called her on speakerphone as soon as she passed through the metal detector. Amazingly, the hall staff knew Conlon’s name and occupation before she could introduce herself.

The company claims it repeatedly notified all of Davis’ lawyers of its rules, but a partner at the firm called the policy collective punishment. Other firms had previously sued MSG Entertainment over this practice, and Conlon believed that Radio City Music Hall would allow her to participate due to a judge’s ruling in one of these recent cases.

Davis is using the incident to challenge the company’s state liquor license, which requires it to allow members of the public to rule out security risks. While facial recognition is mostly advertised to detect potential security risks, Conlon said it poses no danger.

This year, several other groups have faced legal and other hurdles regarding facial recognition. In February, the IRS ditched facial recognition to appease privacy advocates. Facebook began paying people in Illinois in May following a 2015 lawsuit alleging that the company kept scans of users’ faces without permission. Around the same time, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office fined Clearview millions and ordered it to clear its facial recognition database after it collected biometric data from UK citizens without properly notifying them.

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