Knicks owner James Dolan defends MSG's use of facial recognition after letter from NY attorney general

James Dolan spoke publicly about Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition at its venues for the first time on Thursday in an interview with Fox 5.

The New York Knicks team owner and Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation chief executive showed no signs of backing down from the policy, which has been used to remove multiple attorneys from its venues.

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us,” he said. “And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that.”

Dolan went as far as calling out the New York State Liquor Authority, which apparently threatened to take away Madison Square Garden’s liquor license over the company’s “adverse attorney policy.”

“[The agency] is way over its skis and being extremely aggressive,” he said.

He continued with a threat of his own. “They’re doing this for publicity so we’re going to give them some publicity,” Dolan said. “In response to their threats, we could pick a night, and shut down all the alcohol in the building. We know our fans would be disappointed.”

The 67-year-old then urged fans to contact Sharif Kabir, the SLA's chief executive officer, if they “don’t like the sound of that,” providing Kabir’s email address, phone number and extension.

His televised comments come after New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to MSG Entertainment on Wednesday. She requested information regarding the company’s use of facial recognition technology to bar valid ticket holders from entrance and requested a response by Feb. 13.

How the ‘adverse attorney policy’ has operated

In addition to hosting the Knicks, Madison Square Garden is the home of the New York Rangers NHL team, college basketball teams, professional boxing matches and concerts. Meanwhile, MSG Entertainment owns and operates other venues in New York, including Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre and the Hulu Theatre.

In the letter, James referenced reports of individuals being banned from those venues and estimated that 90 law firms have been affected by the policy.

She noted that research suggests MSG Entertainment’s “use of facial recognition software may be plagued with biases and false positives against people of color and women.”

On Thursday, Dolan seemed to directly respond to the attorney general’s concerns. “This is not discriminatory and we will not back down – The Garden has to defend itself – our values are important to us,” he said.

However, the letter also expressed concern that banning individuals from accessing venues over ongoing litigation may violate local, state, and federal human rights laws — such as those prohibiting retaliation.

In a recent example, Kelly Conlon was escorted out of Radio City Music Hall last month after facial recognition software identified her as an attorney for the New Jersey-based firm Davis.

Conlon was forced to wait outside while her 9-year-old daughter’s Girl Scout troop watched the Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

The New York Times conducted an investigation of Madison Square Garden’s use of facial recognition in 2018. Almost five years later, the Times covered Conlon’s removal from Radio City Music Hall, reporting that she does not practice law in New York and is not affiliated with any cases against MSG Entertainment.

The company issued a statement after Dolan’s television appearance on Thursday, supporting Dolan while taking shots at unfavorable politicians and attorneys.

“MSG Entertainment today clearly stated its position on its adverse attorney policy and attempts by self-serving politicians to use this issue as a publicity and fundraising platform, instead of addressing issues that impact all New Yorkers such as crime and the economy,” the statement reads in part. It continues, “The attorneys we are prohibiting from attending include ambulance chasers and money grabbers whose business is motivated by self-promotion and who capitalize on the misfortune of others. These are attorneys that are defending the ticket scalpers who make getting tickets for the average game and concert-goer next to impossible and exorbitantly expensive."

New York Knicks team owner and Madison Square Garden Entertainment CEO James Dolan defended his company's use of facial recognition software in various venues. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
New York Knicks team owner and Madison Square Garden Entertainment CEO James Dolan defended his company's use of facial recognition software in various venues. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
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