The Rockettes perform in 2009 to publicize their Christmas Spectacular. This year, an attorney was turned away from the annual holiday show after facial recognition software identified her as belonging to a firm that had sued the owners of Radio City Music Hall.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images
I don’t hate New York City as much as many Chicagoans do. In fact, I don’t hate it at all, but enjoy visiting the museums and drinking coffee at Caffe Reggio and walking the High Line.
Why? It’s a great city, and I tend to like every city I’ve been to, to a greater or lesser degree, including Los Angeles, Cleveland, Santiago and Gary, which I once recommended in this space as a tourist destination.
I didn’t go to New York this past Christmas, but have in the past, to see a Broadway show, enjoy the lights on Fifth Avenue. I haven’t yet gone to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes, but can easily imagine doing so. Unless this column cheezes off the owners and they ban me, the way they did all the lawyers at firms that have sued them.
In case you missed that story, over Thanksgiving, a personal injury lawyer named Kelly Conlon tried to attend the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City, chaperoning her 9-year-old daughter’s Girl Scout troop. But guards barred Conlon.
“They told me that they knew I was Kelly Conlon and that I was an attorney,” she told the New York Times. “They knew the name of my law firm.”
What happened? Cameras captured Conlon’s face as she entered Radio City, facial recognition software identified her as someone on the “attorney exclusion list” that MSG Entertainment, which owns Radio City, Madison Square Garden, and other venues, created over the summer. MSG is owned by the Dolan family, run by 96-year-old billionaire James Dolan, who made his fortune in cable television.
Conlon never sued MSG. She just belonged to a firm that had.
Why is this significant to people in Chicago?
The past few years have been a master class in high-level pettiness, malice and irresponsibility. From a criminal, egomaniacal president (Donald Trump, in case you’ve forgotten) to Elon Musk buying Twitter then having a daily, if not hourly King Lear-like breakdown, banishing journalists, firing employees, and in general not behaving the way we’d like the sole authority at a significant vehicle for communication to behave.
Our nation has seen a concentration of wealth in the upper 0.1%, as they get to keep more of the taxes that used to help run society. Rather than become increasingly public-minded, this current crop of plutocrats seem to have lost all sense of balance, busying themselves with bullying opponents, trying to live forever or building fortress bunkers to sit out Armageddon. Andrew Carnegie built libraries. Mark Zuckerberg spends hundreds of millions of dollars buying real estate for himself.
In the meantime, public surveillance burgeons, from Ring doorbells to pole-mounted cameras to Apple AirTag trackers. Airports have been particularly vigorous using facial recognition software to screen passengers. We don’t worry enough about who’s minding the store.
What to do? Laws can help. MSG also owns the Chicago Theatre, and the only reason I don’t have to worry about being turned away should I decide to go see John Oliver there this weekend is because Illinois has some of the strictest facial recognition laws in the country. You might recall my column on Aibo, the cute little Sony robot dog that couldn’t be sold in Illinois because the computer canine uses facial identification software to identify its owner and joyfully yip in their direction.
To see where facial recognition is going without restraint of law, we have only to look at China. That country is developing a social credit system where how well you stay in line helps determine what financial perks you enjoy, how freely you travel, even how fast your internet connection is.
If we don’t control who can gather our data and what they can do with it, the day may come when you send out a snide tweet, pointing out what a gold-plated jerk Elon Musk has become, and suddenly your Ventra card stops working.
Mocking laws and regulations is a red state passion. But laws are the reason we don’t still have 10-year-olds working in thread factories in Tennessee, and if you don’t want the United Center to someday reject your ticket to see a Bulls game because you posted something catty about Jerry Reinsdorf, we need to stay focused. It’s hard to avoid a problem you don’t know about. I figure, better to alert you too soon than too late.