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Facial recognition technology at Madison Square Garden and other venues scrutinized at New York City Council hearing

New York City Council holds hearing on facial recognition technology
New York City Council holds hearing on facial recognition technology 02:04

NEW YORK -- Facial recognition technology at entertainment venues and other businesses was under review Friday at a New York City Council hearing. 

In 2021, in response to the growing number of companies utilizing the technology, New York City passed laws requiring businesses that use facial recognition to inform customers that it's in use.

City leaders may be trying to take things further after Madison Square Garden came under fire for its use of facial recognition. 

"As more entities gain access to facial recognition technology, it increases the potential for improper use," said Council Member Marjorie Velázquez, who chairs the Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection. 

At the hearing, Velázquez called on experts in the field to discuss the risks of facial recognition technology. 

"Facial recognition relies on large scores of variable personal data, making the systems a potential target of security breaches, information leaks," said Velázquez. 

MSG and Radio City Music Hall have taken heat for using facial recognition. James Dolan, chairman of the venues, admitted to using the technology to ban lawyers working for firms suing his company. 

NYC Council hearing on use of facial recognition technology 02:41

Some city leaders believe that crossed a line. 

"We must do what we can as a city to protect New Yorkers' privacy and information and ensure that these products are not used in ways that harm consumers and workers," said Velázquez. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams doubled down on that. 

"There's a point where private and public really come in connection and we can't allow it just run amok, and government has to step in," said Williams. 

Attorney Samuel Davis, a founding partner at the law firm whose employee, Kelly Conlon, was escorted out of Radio City late last year for simply being associated with the firm during litigation with MSG, said he's fighting for transparency. 

"If you're gonna allow facial recognition, let people know about it. Give people a fair shot," Davis said at the hearing. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who recently said facial recognition technology may violate anti-bias laws, claimed Dolan's properties use it to limit almost 100 law firms from entering. 

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal told CBS2 he introduced a bill that would tweak civil rights laws to prevent venues from banning people who have a valid ticket. 

"Essentially, when you walk into Madison Square Garden, you are immediately treated as a suspect," said Hoylman-Sigal. 

"The facial recognition technology system does not retain images of individuals, with the exception of those who were previously advised they are prohibited from entering our venues, or whose previous misconduct in our venues has identified them as a security risk. We utilize facial recognition technology in compliance with all applicable laws," an MSG Entertainment spokesperson told CBS2. 

Dolan, appearing on WFAN a few weeks ago, said his company does not use facial recognition technology against fans at the Garden unless they become "confrontational with other fans, confrontational with the staff, confrontational with the, excuse me, with the ownership."  

Most council members and members of the public at the hearing agreed the technology could be dangerous in the wrong hands. 

Defenders of facial recognition technology, like Jake Parker of the nonprofit Security Industries Association, said it's about rules and regulations as opposed to the technology itself. 

"If the technology is used in a way where you're flagging certain individuals for some kind of further action, particularly if there could be negative consequences, then that needs to be subject to robust policies and procedures," said Parker. 

There were no signs of any MSG officials, including Dolan, at Friday's hearing. They knew it was happening and appeared to make a conscious decision to not show up or face questioning. 

"I had a conversation with a representative last weekend and they assured me that someone would be showing up today," said Velázquez. "It's a disgrace. I'm disappointed." 

"Today's City Council oversight hearing was intended to generally address the use of facial recognition technology by businesses in New York City. MSG Entertainment's views on the use of facial recognition technology were represented at the hearing, in both written and oral testimony, by organizations such as the Security Industry Association, Tech:NYC, and BIO-key International, that share our belief that it's a useful and widely used tool that enables businesses to provide a safe and secure environment," a spokesperson said. 

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