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Madison Square Garden’s Facial Recognition Mess: What We Know

Photo: Emily Chinn (Getty Images)

The future of facial recognition use by private companies in the United States could boil down to who emerges victorious in an ongoing dispute between a collection of lawyers and a petty, authoritarian New York billionaire. The place: one of America’s most famous venues, Madison Square Garden. The owner: James Dolan.

Over the past three months, multiple lawyers in the New York area have come forward with dramatic accounts of being denied entry into Madison Square Garden and other venues also owned by MSG Entertainment. The common factor in their stories? Each of them were spotted by the company’s facial recognition system. That system was looking for lawyers from an estimated 90 law firms with active litigation against Madison Square Garden or MSG who were placed on a list denying them entry into the venues. The venue justifies banning the attorneys, many of whom aren’t personally involved in the lawsuits, because their presence somehow “creates an inherently adverse environment.” New York’s Attorney General, on the other hand, says that practice may violate state civil rights laws. Madison Square Garden first rolled out facial recognition systems to its venues in 2018 with the stated goal of increasing security.

“This is bad, and it’s just one example of how facial recognition could be used to infringe on people’s rights,” Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer said in a statement. “This technology puts music fans, sports fans, and others at risk of being unjustly detained, harassed, judged, or even deported.”

Madison Square Garden’s owner says he’s not going to stop using the technology anytime soon. Here’s everything we know about the Madison Square Garden facial recognition saga so far.

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