New York state is considering legislation that would ban Madison Square Garden others from using facial recognition software to ban fans

New York City’s Madison Square Garden and other sports venues will be barred from denying entry to perceived enemies of their owners, according to a bill presented to state lawmakers Monday.

The proposed legislation comes after the company, which owns the famous garden and other notable venues, including Radio City Music Hall, introduced a policy to bar ticket holders entry if they work for a law firm involved in a lawsuit against the company.

It enforced the rule by canceling tickets and using facial recognition technology to identify and then bounce off people trying to attend events.

In November, the company used the technology to stop a New Jersey mother from accompanying her daughter on a Girl Scout field trip to see a Rockettes holiday show at Radio City Music Hall.

A lawyer who has owned New York Knicks season tickets for nearly 50 years sued MSG Entertainment in October, saying he and nearly 60 attorneys at his firm were evicted from the company’s properties.

The bill would amend a long-standing state law by adding “sporting events” to the list of public entertainment venues that cannot refuse entry to people arriving with a valid ticket. The law was originally intended to prevent Broadway venues from excluding theater critics they disliked.

The proposal doesn’t directly address the issue of using facial recognition technology to screen customers, but bill sponsors said the practice is out of bounds.

“It’s ridiculous that a CEO could use this technology to discriminate,” said assembly member Tony Simone, a Manhattan Democrat.

MSG Entertainment has defended its exclusion policy, saying it’s good policy to keep its legal opponents out of its venues. The bill’s sponsors were said to be siding with “lawyers representing ticket scalpers and other money thieves.”

“The facial recognition technology system does not store images of individuals, except for individuals who have previously been notified that they are prohibited from entering our venues or whose past misconduct in our venues has identified them as a security risk,” said a spokesman for MSG Entertainment said in an email.

A judge granted a banned attorney, Larry Hutcher, a partial victory in November, saying he and other attorneys at his firm had the right to attend musical and theatrical performances at the Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theater when they turned up with a valid ticket.

This decision did not apply to New York Knicks or New York Rangers games at the Garden.

“MSG alleges that when they remove sports fans from the garden, they are using biometric technology for the benefit of public safety,” sponsoring state senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a prepared statement. “This is absurd as in at least four reported cases the guests who were booted from their venues did not pose a security threat and were instead attorneys for firms representing clients in litigation with MSG.”


Maysoon Khan is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Keep following Maysoon Khan Twitter.

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