By Andrea Flink, Senior Fellow at Fordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy
Alan Greenberg, an attorney and Upper West Side resident, was eagerly anticipating Jerry Seinfeld’s December show at the Beacon Theatre when Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation (MSG) notified him that he and his law firm colleagues were officially persona non grata at all MSG venues – including the Beacon at Broadway and W. 74th Street. The reason? Greenberg’s law firm represents a fan suing MSG, because he was punched by another fan at a Rangers game played in Madison Square Garden.
MSG’s policy of banning all attorneys from firms with lawsuits against the company has been much in the news of late. Still, Greenberg initially thought it was laughable because of how difficult it would be to enforce such a ban on people attending public events. But then he learned that MSG uses facial recognition to identify the attorneys on its enemies list, apparently with photos scraped from the law firms’ own websites. If an attorney on the list attempts to go through security at an MSG property — including the Beacon and Radio City Music Hall — the facial recognition system matches their image to a photo in the company’s database and alerts security personnel, who then escort the attorneys out.
Determined to see Seinfeld, but wary of public confrontation, Greenberg (left) disguised himself by growing a beard and wearing a cap. He also sued MSG Entertainment on civil rights grounds. He got in to see Seinfeld, and though he believes the disguise may have been sufficient to evade the facial recognition system, an MSG spokesperson says he wasn’t active in their system since they took him off the banned list due to a court order issued the week before that temporarily allowed him to attend entertainment events, pending a further hearing.
Since MSG’s policy took effect last June, lawyers from approximately 90 law firms have been banned from the company’s venues. MSG Entertainment says it notified all the affected lawyers, but several say they were not aware and were unceremoniously blocked when trying to attend events. Attorney Kelli Conlon, who had no direct involvement in litigation against MSG, was chaperoning her nine-year old daughter’s New Jersey Girl Scout troop to see Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular when she was escorted out; she walked the streets for two hours while the girls watched the show without her. Nicolette Landi was blocked from using her $376.83 ticket to Mariah Carey’s Christmas concert at Madison Square Garden. And Benjamin Pinczewski said he was “marched out in front of friends and fans like I was a criminal” when security stopped him from entering the Garden for a Rangers game.
MSG also cancelled attorney and Upper West Sider Larry Hutcher’s Knicks season tickets. Hutcher had been a season ticket holder for almost 50 years but made MSG’s enemies list by representing ticket resellers who are suing the company.
An MSG spokesperson told the Rag in an email that lawsuits against the company create “an inherently adversarial environment” in which the company believes it must protect itself against improper disclosure and discovery. MSG also defends its use of facial recognition as a “useful tool widely used throughout the country, including the sports and entertainment industry” to “protect the safety of the people that visit and work at those locations.”
Hutcher, the former season ticket holder, told the Rag that the argument that a lawyer attending an event at an MSG venue could engage in illegal discovery “is, to put it mildly, bull—-t. They’re afraid I’m going to discuss the case with a hot dog vendor?” Hutcher said he believes MSG’s policy is designed to exact revenge and chill other law firms from suing the company. MSG owner James Dolan has a history of exacting revenge on his critics: he famously ejected former Knick Charles Oakley from Madison Square Garden and threatened to ban him for life for criticizing him. Just last week he disinvited Assemblyman Tony Simone, who represents part of the Upper West Side, from dropping the ceremonial first puck at Pride Night at a Rangers game because he joined lawmakers opposed to MSG’s policy.
Whatever the motivation, MSG’s policy would be almost impossible to enforce without facial recognition technology, which has been used sparingly by corporations due to privacy concerns. Face scans, like other biometric information, are stored digitally, and any database, including one with biometrics, is vulnerable to hackers. Albert Fox Cahn, Executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), told the Rag that since people can’t change their biometric identifiers, “when biometric privacy is compromised, it’s violated for life.”
Facial recognition has also been proven to be discriminatory when used on faces of color, women, and transgender persons, leading businesses to deny admission to innocent people when their photos were incorrectly matched to suspected shoplifters or others who had been barred from the premises. Cahn also noted that using facial recognition for crowd surveillance, as MSG is doing, is “exponentially” more error prone than traditional facial recognition searches.
Facial recognition technology has traditionally been used for security purposes, especially by law enforcement, but its use by a private company to target its critics appears to be unprecedented. While there are virtually no laws prohibiting this abuse of privacy, some state lawmakers are exploring options.
Senator Kristen Gonzalez, chair of the Internet and Technology Committee, is alarmed that anyone in New York, especially the ultra-wealthy, has the power to target and surveil whoever they don’t like. She told the Rag, “Right now it’s lawyers, tomorrow it could be anyone. Clearly these lawyers don’t pose a security risk.” She plans to sponsor new legislation “to make sure we have the strongest biometric protections” in the country.
State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal told the Rag that he will “absolutely” be proposing legislation to protect New Yorkers’ biometric privacy. “It’s an outrage to think one would be forced to leave a venue because of exercising a first amendment right to be part of a law firm that has litigation against the owner of a venue.” He continued, “Where does it stop? Could you be forced to leave a grocery store or your local restaurant because you might be on some perceived enemies list? Banned from using Uber? It’s corporate bullying at the most basic level.”
Currently, the only applicable biometric privacy law is a city requirement to post a “clear and conspicuous” sign near entrances to businesses, informing patrons that their biometric information is being used. The Beacon has rotating signs outdoors at the far edges of the theatre. They are easy to miss, as they disappear after 10 seconds, replaced by advertisements for upcoming shows. An MSG spokesperson told the Rag that there are also always paper signs atop stanchions, including when Greenberg attended, though Greenberg told the Rag he did not see any such signs.
While Cahn believes that the disclosure requirement is an “important first step,” he believes it is “insufficient to address the full scale of the threat posed by biometric surveillance.” He told the Rag that S.T.O.P has been pushing legislation before the City Council that would outlaw the use of biometric surveillance in places of public accommodation, including MSG venues.
Last week upstate Assemblymember Aileen Gunther reintroduced the Biometric Privacy Act for the fourth time, which would require that private entities notify subjects and obtain a written release before collecting biometric information, though there does not appear to be consensus yet on this bill.
The court in Hutcher’s case ruled that while MSG can refuse to honor a valid ticket to a sporting event, it must allow attorneys from his firm to attend concerts and theatrical events under a 1941 civil rights law enacted to protect theater critics from retaliation for writing bad reviews. Hoylman-Sigal and Simone introduced a bill last week to add sporting events to that law, which currently protects admission to “legitimate theatres, burlesque theatres, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses.”
An MSG spokesperson told the Rag that the narrow exception requiring it to grant admission to concerts and theatrical events only applies to attorneys at the three law firms (including Greenberg’s firm) that have sought and obtained injunctive relief, and even those attorneys are still barred from sporting events. The spokesperson stressed that all attorneys involved in litigation against MSG that have not obtained injunctive relief are banned from all events at all venues
On January 24th, Attorney General Letitia James notified MSG that its policy could violate human rights laws, including laws prohibiting retaliation, and may dissuade lawyers from taking on legitimate cases against the company to avoid the ban and continue attending MSG events. MSG has until February 13th to respond to those concerns and confirm that its use of facial recognition technology is not discriminatory.
If Attorney General James does not prevail, MSG and other companies could potentially expand use of facial recognition beyond lawyers, for example to ban anyone who posts negative reviews about a business on social media from attending events that don’t qualify as entertainment under the 1941 law. Cahn said, “If a mom can be kicked out of a show with her daughter’s girl scout troop, it’s hard to imagine anyone being safe from corporate retaliation in a world where anyone’s images can be weaponized against them.”
This article is part of a series exploring Modern Threats to Privacy. Other stories include:
New York City’s Unauthorized DNA Database
Direct-to-Consumer DNA Tests — Worth the Risks?
23andYou: DNA Storage Is Growing, and So Is the Need to Protect your DNA Privacy
90 law firms? is there a list anywhere/
I assume no one who wishes to attend sporting events will post a comment criticizing this man with papery thin skin…
James Dolan is a rather sick individual.
He’s Exhibit A in the case for a strong estate tax.
You mean the guy who got MSG a multi-decade exemption from NY property taxes? Lol.
This is ridiculous. I am not a person who would be banned by this policy, but I’ve just decided to ban myself from Beacon theater.
But in order for your idea to be effective, doesn’t the Beacon (and therefore its owners) need to know WHY you are banning yourself from the theater?
I find this absolutely grotesque and Orwellian. It is both a misuse of the technology and a self-defeating strategy: each of the lawyers knows hundreds of people. What if they simply started getting everyone they know to boycott Dolan’s venues? I will personally boycott them, because, for some of us, the principle involved here is FAR more important than the pleasure received from watching a concert or sports event.
Agreed. I think the same thing. Dolan is playing with emotional fire. While “lawyers” are not a civil rights protected class like “race, creed, color, or religion,” there still may be some FTC regulation or other business regulations that violate the NYS or federal law. It just creates ill will for a business and he’s so arrogant he thinks no one will be able to make a dent. But what if there are attorneys who are are part of a law firm that represents a league, players, or a team, or a musical group or whomever who are booked to play there? This reminds me of when Carnegie Hall tried to tell Benny Goodman that only White musicians can take the stage, and he said either my musicians play or we don’t play. Goodman won and integrated Carnegie Hall in 1938. Dolan will lose no matter how long it takes.
While it’s not entirely illegal, it is wrong. The artists (read, their booking managers) can choose not to use a venue that the Dolan’s own.
I suspect we will soon see more of this in stores and restaurants. Careful with your returns and your reviews or you may find you won’t be welcome when that time comes.
Too much hi tech in our lives. And Mr. Dolan is a sub human being, paranoid and ugly, inside & out.
This is outrageous!
I am guessing Dolan and his cronies at MSQ are going to be sued by many attorneys in the near future.
And just about every Judge in every court is/was an attorney before becoming a Judge.
Good luck Dolan. You are going to need it.
it is a private company and they can do whatever they like here, they even stated once the suits are settled they will allow the people back inside.
This is not the nanny state, if you don’t like it don’t buy tickets. you can bet that will get MSG’s attention
Really? What does this have to do with being a “nanny state,” whatever that is. One thing to know is that Madison Square Garden gets about $47 million in annual tax breaks, so we (including you, assuming you pay taxes in New York State) are subsidizing him and his silly behavior. And, because MSG serves alcohol, he’s violating the terms of his liquor license.
“Nanny state” is a sexist term. Ironic in that men continue to hold a high proportion of positions in any level of government in the U.S. Beyond that… what exactly is terrible about being a nanny? They care for young children; that should be admired. And would be in a culture that isn’t so sexist.
Absolutely correct, which is why the NYS Attorney General is scrutinizing the practice.
I’ll just note that William Shakespeare, widely considered to be the most profound writer ever to put pen to paper in the English language, wrote: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”
I’ll simply leave it at that.
It’s never a good idea to antagonize lawyers. They sue! Dolan is looking for a lot of trouble.
As if anyone needed any further reasons to avoid / actively boycott Dolan’s terrible sports teams…
The Rangers went to the Conference Final last year, but, please, do go on.
Dolan’s lawyers obviously tried to tailor the ban by decreeing that it would only be in effect while litigation is pending, but that should not be enough. There should be a rule that no one is prohibited from going to a place of public accommodation unless that person is reasonably expected to cause some sort of disruption or damage while in attendance.
Lawyers are awful. Until you need one. Then they are a life saver.
A lifesaver? Until you get the bill… and realize you were billed $35. for that 2 min. phone call you made, where the only thing that you said to the shyster was: “So I’ll see you tomorrow at noon then?”
A license to steal… Nickel and dime you TO DEATH.
$6,500 to go to contract & close on an apartment… SHEESH!
I’d love to know where you get a lawyer for $35 for 2 minutes.. Some in charge for voicemail! Careful not to sneeze; that’s a few extra seconds that you’ll be charged for.
should a lawyer not get paid for their expertise?
Next time you go to contract or need a lawyer, just do the task yourself.
Equally egregious is the fact that everybody who enters one of these venues is facially scanned for no good reason. The idea that one is “informed” and that makes it OK is dubious. As the article said, the signs at the Beacon disappear and turn into ads. And how many people going to an event are looking at signs and ads as they enter? If the sign is even seen then it essentially becomes blackmail to the patron who purchased a ticket and wants to attend the event. Let us scan you or go home.
I haven’t attended an MSG event in awhile but will pointedly avoid these venues in the future.
My, how quickly the “it’s a private company and can ban whomever they want” crowd changes their stripes!
I would think MSG has better things to spend time and money on than this. Put the money towards RJ Barrett’s next contract!
Can they recognize you if you wear a Covid mask? Or can it be determined where the detectors are and you just put your hand over your face while walking by?
Related: The MSG operating agreement permitting events for more than 2500 people is due for renewal by City Council soon. Write to demand it not be renewed – for this outrageous behavior and need to move the Garden for adequate Penn Station development (which was once agreed to ~2008).
I don’t think this issue is as much about facial recognition technology (which can be very helpful to law enforcement) as it is simply about Dolan being a major league jerk. His ego is out of control. Perhaps a boycott of all his venues are in order, or, better yet, forcing him to divest himself of all public venues since he cannot conduct himself like a human being.
I saw a news report that it’s not just lawyers. Banned also are people who have posted negative social media comments about the owner of MSG.
Guess we’re not going anywhere.
Wait till they “try” to implement social credit score system. Facial recognition is extremely invasive and dangerous. It’s the equivalent of a thought police. People should not be banned from public places just because they sue a company. I believe that all public spaces should be open and free for everyone. What is this world we live in… A lawyer has to worry about being tracked and monitored just for fighting for his client’s rights. That’s disgusting
It’s not a public space. It’s private property with private ownership open to a paying public that’s beholden to terms of service. This is a crucial distinction in the argument and why the public has no say in the matter. The only thing you can do is protest with your wallet.
Except there are anti-discrimination laws that apply to private entities who serve the public. MSG is one of those. They can’t turn away somebody because of their race or religion. Can they do so because of their employer?
Until someone brings a lawsuit and wins, yes. They can.
As long as the lawyers aren’t causing a disturbance at The Beacon (or MSG or Radio City), the court ruling is likely wrong — such bans as Dolan is attempting would be illegal under the public accommodations law.
So a lawyer who is suing Dolan, and who has been in a fight at MSG, could certainly be banned from MSG, just as anyone who’s been in (really started) a fight at MSG can be banned. But banning by association could mean banning because of X factor that Dolan disapproves of, not because X is anything illegal — eg snorting blow in the audience.
Separately: Facial Recognition software often doesn’t work — falsely IDing people.
Dolan is having such a massive ego trip that he doesn’t realize that all this negative press will do far more harm to his money making scheme than letting a couple of lawyers suing him into whatever show they want to see in peace.
Strip Dolan of every public benefit and tax break we have foolishly given to his venues over the years. Not a single New Yorker will shed a tear.
I would like some places that Dolan frequents (such as restaurants) ban him.
As much as I’m mad at Dolan, that would escalate to an infinite chain of banning and other modes of revenge
The lawyers should sue the face recognition company for copyright infringement as they had to have used the pics from their website without permission
This will be an interesting court case, banning is allowed.
As long as it is not based on bias against a federally protected class of people. Which one do lawyers fall under?
Religion (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/ or related medical conditions)
Gender identity, gender expression.
They threaten to remove his liquor license, apparently he doesn’t care about that either.
Facial recognition is used in casinos, players are banned and that information is shared with others in the industry. I don’t think people realize how easily someone can be tracked in general cell phone location services, social media.
Facial recognition may not be the sole way they identified the person anyway it might have been the first point of information something like their cell phone location or social media tracking might be their second.
I don’t think they make you take your mask off, if you wanted to wear one for entry.
I did read about the state liquor licensing board threatening to suspend MSG’s permit to sell alcohol. In an interview about this, Dolan told the interviewer that he didn’t need alcohol sales to make money at MSG and that he would consider picking an upcoming Rangers game and not selling alcohol during the game. I find it fascinating that he would pick a Rangers game and not a Knicks game. I suspect it has everything to do with the fact that he rarely (if ever) attends Rangers’ games but is always in attendance at Knicks games.
I think Dolan is depending on attendees complaining that there is no alcohol. Dolan plans to post signs having them contact Sharif Kabir directly with his phone number given.
The average is $140K per Ranger game on alcohol sales.. I don’t know what the sales look like for Knicks games.
I think you are right though in suspecting he doesn’t want to ban sales when he is in attendance.
Wait until Dolan bans Letitia James
I completely agree with you — I have no doubt that Dolan will let the fans know who to call!
What in the 1984 is this mess lol
I think this kind of ban by facial recognition will be short-lived. It goes against the basic tenets of our constitution. What if a pro- bono defense attorney is representing the somebody who hypothetically murdered someone at MSG or the Beacon or Radio City? The attorney is required by law to take the case. My current standards he would be banned too.
The spokesperson for MSG is probably correct that Alan Greenberg got in despite his disguise because he wasn’t on the list of that moment. Apparently facial recognition sees beyond disguise.
On a side note, lawyers often have more than a hint of arrogance as noted in Larry Hutcher’s off the cuff ” joke,” that “who is (he )going to discuss the case with, a hotdog vender?” In a round about way, that implies the vendor is less than…
If someone’s out there working everyday
to provide for family — more power to the exclamation! It’s those kind of comments that Mr Hutcher’s made that underscores people’s complaints about lawyers.
As for Dolan, in the words of Shakespeare (slightly altered!), “Upon what meat doth Dolan eat that makes him grow so great?”
Very well put.
does msg get any public money? maybe they shouldnt.
re: turnaround is fair play.
Good for Dolan
I recall that landlords can decide not accept tenants based upon their occupation. Landlords did not want to tenants that are prone to sue. The exception for lawyers was passed by the city council after being lobbied by politically connected lawyers. Be prepared for whining lawyers to go to the city council to pass a bill allowing them unfettered entrance to semi-public venues.