Face-off at the Garden: Pols, activists blasts James Dolan, MSG owners for allegedly using facial recognition to ban unwanted fans

Benjamin Pinczewski happens to be a New York Rangers fan, and a member of a law firm currently working on a lawsuit against Madison Square Garden. When he recently attended one of the Broadway Blueshirts’ games on their home ice, he found himself unceremoniously given the boot from the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”

It led to charges that MSG, under its CEO James Dolan, has been regularly using facial recognition technology to keep certain individuals out of the Garden that management does not want. According to state Senator Brad Hoylman, Pinczewski was the fourth person to be removed from MSG recently as a result of the program.

Hoylman, along with a coalition of social justice organization members and other elected officials, rallied outside MSG on Sunday denouncing the use of facial recognition software and blasting Dolan for allegedly targeting his personal enemies.

“There’s a pattern of James Dolan punishing who he views as his corporate adversaries—attorneys who are employed at law firms that have active litigation against Madison Square Garden Entertainment. That is a frightening prospect for every New Yorker and frankly, every visitor to New York City who may come through the doors of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, or any other venue owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment,” Hoylman said. “Madison Square Garden Entertainment says they use facial recognition technology for security purposes to keep their fans safe. Well, we have seen through these examples that James Dolan and Madison Square Garden are less concerned about the security of their fans and more concerned about corporate retaliation.”

Senator Brad Hoylman. Photo by Dean Moses
Elected officials and privacy advocates held a press conference outside of Madison Square Garden on Jan. 15, demanding an end to facial recognition technology on fans. Photo by Dean Moses

Hoylman and fellow elected officials Senators Liz Krueger, Brian Kavanaugh, Council Member Erik Bottcher, and more unveiled a letter the politicians sent to Dolan demanding that use of the technology be immediately ceased. If the practice continues, speakers are demanding that MSG lose its liquor license and its tax exemption status.

“If you work for a law firm, and you work for a big one, you better start making a really long list of places you can never go again. And that’s crazy; there is no reason for this,” Krueger said.

Advocates stressed that MSG is abusing facial recognition technology and weaponizing this power to discriminate against patrons and steal their personal information. In doing so, those at the press conference shared their fear that if MSG is not stopped, who else will abuse this form of technology.

MSG security guards kept a watchful eye over the press conference. Photo by Dean Moses

“Who will actually go to court against the country’s largest companies if they can retaliate this way?” Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn said. “If MSG can do this to attorneys suing the company, they can also target employees and customers who sue the company for violating the law. It’s terrifying to think that other companies might follow suit, and that anytime you exercise your rights in court it will mean getting banned from public life. If New Yorkers can be banned from a Rangers game, they can be banned from the grocery store or the pharmacy. These technologies are ripe for abuse, and it’s long past time that the city and state ban them. Giving companies, the wealthy, and the government the ability to track nearly anyone at any time is a recipe for disaster.”

In response to these claims, MSG underscores that the company does not retain images of individuals unless they were previously advised that that person is prohibited from entering the venues. Additionally, MSG asserts that they have the right to protect itself during litigation procedures. 

“MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys from firms pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved. While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment. All impacted attorneys were notified of the policy. We continue to make clear that impacted attorneys will be welcomed back to our venues upon resolution of the litigation,” an MSG representative said in a statement. 

Madison Square Garden. Photo by Dean Moses