MSG’s Usage of Facial Recognition Technology Sparks Civil Rights Debate

Anokhi Manchanda

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law,  JD 2025

A woman attempting to chaperone her daughter’s Girl Scout troop on a trip to attend a Rockette’s show at Radio City Music Hall was denied entry based on facial recognition technology. The security subsequently revealed that she was on a list of excluded attorneys as her firm was involved in ongoing litigation against Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment (which owns Radio City Music Hall). this could be one of the consequences of allowing private corporations to use facial recognition technology.

How does facial recognition technology work and how is it being used?

Facial recognition technology utilizes the unique characteristics of a person’s face and stores them as data. Once the been collected for a person’s face, it is stored and later used to compare faces to identify people. Notably, a person’s image can be collected from other places such as social media before they even step foot into the venues that are using them. This   is meant to create a more efficient and safe society. For example, the technology allows sports fans to check-in faster to games in arenas. Additionally, it has been used as in criminal cases.

Madison Square Garden Entertainment case

In the MSG Entertainment case, a woman named Kelly Conlon was supposed to be attending a Rockettes show with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She was denied entry after security flagged her for being on an “exclusion list” because her firm was suing MSG Entertainment. In response, the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, sent a letter to MSG Entertainment listing concerns of them potentially violating human rights laws and asking them for more information regarding their exclusion of thousands of lawyers. 

In response to the Attorney General’s letter and other criticism, James Dolan, MSG Executive Chairman and CEO, stated that he does not want people who are suing his company to come to their venues until the disputes are resolved. However, Dolan said that once the litigation is over, the attorneys are welcome back. Some officials of the company have also claimed that they notified the law firms twice recently about their exclusion policy.

Main critiques and pitfalls

Critics are quick to point out that government entities and law enforcement are both more highly regulated of their use of facial recognition technology than private corporations currently. Even though MSG Entertainment is a privately owned company and therefore does have the authority on deciding who may enter its venues, their use of the technology was not making people safer. Consequently, MSG Entertainment’s actions can be classified as civil rights violations. The Attorney General’s letter indicated that banning specific people can violate laws protecting people from retribution. People should be able to enjoy their concerts and sports events even if they are involved in litigation with the company. The New York Bar Association president added that the exclusion list discriminates against lawyers simply for doing their work.


Another cause for concern in facial recognition technology could be grounds for legislation. This is the racially discriminatory pattern revealed by a federal study from 2019, which showed that this technology was more likely to misidentify people of color than white people. Also, criminal databases represent people of color due to the history of institutionalized racism in the United States. This means that the technology can follow that established pattern, giving more reason to regulate the technology.

On January 23, 2023, New York State legislators introduced a bill in response to MSG Entertainment’s use of facial recognition technology. This bill would prevent venues from refusing admission to those with valid entrance tickets. In addition to that, there should be more regulations for how private corporations use facial recognition technology. This should include more efforts to prevent discriminatory patterns that the technology currently seems to allow. Furthermore, corporations should be regulated on how they decide to place people on exclusion lists. Doing so for any “personal” reasons such as banning people who may comment negatively about a company should only be allowed if they pose a threat to the general wellbeing of themselves and others. If no restrictions are added, then private corporations will be able to wield an unchecked discriminatory power.