Report: Madison Square Garden is using face-scanning technology on fans

Madison Square Garden has reportedly been using face-scanning technology, unbeknownst to fans and customers. (Getty/Bloomberg)
Madison Square Garden has reportedly been using face-scanning technology, unbeknownst to fans and customers. (Getty/Bloomberg)

At a time when safety and security are on everyone’s mind, Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, has been employing a new and unregulated security measure for people who enter the venue. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Garden has been using face-scanning technology on their customers.

Face-scanning tech, also known as facial recognition, has several uses. When connected with a database, it can identify people and flag those who might pose a problem to security. It can also be used in marketing and for customer engagement. The Times is reporting that it’s been used for security at the Garden, but not much else is known. Those who spoke to the Times weren’t sure when the system had been installed or how many times it had been used.

A statement released by Madison Square Garden didn’t confirm or deny the use of face-scanning technology, only that the venue “continues to test and explore the use of new technologies” to ensure the safety of its guests. The NHL didn’t comment, but NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said this to the Times:

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of the fans, players, team and arena staff at our games. The league and our teams are exploring the use of all state-of-the-art technology, including facial recognition, to ensure that we have industry-best security measures to protect all those in our arenas.”

There are currently two other arenas using facial recognition, though not to the extent that Madison Square Garden is using it. The Sacramento Kings have used it to allow players and staff to enter a practice facility. The Dallas Mavericks have used it outside their locker room and in the American Airlines Center, but it appears they’ve pulled back from using it on fans attending games.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, however, said in an email the team needs to “find the right application that creates so much value people want to use it.” He said that, for now, facial recognition doesn’t improve his arena’s ability to keep out unwanted patrons enough to justify its implementation.

Facial recognition is only as good as the database it’s connected to. If it’s not helping the Mavericks keep out “unwanted patrons,” it’s probably not helping Madison Square Garden that much, either.

Although security is the most obvious use of the technology, some independent experts say it is less effective as a security measure for private businesses because they do not have access to various watch lists held by law enforcement agencies.

If Madison Square Garden doesn’t have access to updated watch lists held by law enforcement, what database are they using for their face-scanning tech, and how useful can that be for security? And additionally, what is happening to the facial recognition data acquired and created by the Garden when they’re using this technology?

Beyond the questions of security, both data and personal, face-scanning technology is still relatively new, which means it’s almost completely unregulated. There are zero federal laws on the books regulating facial recognition, and just two states (Texas and Illinois) have laws requiring informed consent. At this point, a sports team in all but two states can purchase the technology and scan the faces of fans for both security and marketing purposes, and the fans don’t have to be informed that it’s happening.

Security measures at stadiums and arenas have been increasing over the past several years. This face-scanning technology may be part of that trend, but the implications obviously reach much farther than just a basketball game.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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