The U.S. Fears Live Facial Recognition. In Buenos Aires, It’s a Fact of Life

Live facial recognition has been in use in the capital of Argentina for nearly a year.

Dave Gershgorn
OneZero
Published in
6 min readMar 4, 2020

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InIn July 2019, Guillermo Federico Ibarrola was heading home on the subway when he was stopped by Buenos Aires police. The authorities told Ibarrola that he was being detained for an armed robbery that had happened three years ago in a city about 400 miles away.

Ibarrola protested. He said he had never even been to the city where he was accused of committing the crime. Still, he was arrested.

On the sixth day in police custody, he was suddenly released. The police officers offered Ibarrola coffee and dinner, and a bus ticket back home.

As it turned out, a “Guillermo Ibarrola” had potentially committed a crime, but it wasn’t this Guillermo Ibarrola. Three years earlier, in the wake of the armed robbery, Buenos Aires police entered the name “Guillermo Ibarrola” into the country’s fugitive watchlist. But there are at least two Guillermo Ibarrolas in Argentina, and the system ended up registering the innocent Ibarrola as the suspect. Three years later, as he made his way home, Buenos Aires’ recently instituted real-time facial recognition system flagged him to authorities.

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Dave Gershgorn
OneZero

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.