In 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.
Though it’s becoming common around the world, live facial recognition — the practice of matching every face in live security footage against a watchlist — remains highly controversial. In January, the New York Times published a story about London’s adoption of live facial recognition systems, warning that the West is heading toward a future “of constant surveillance.”
He had never even been to the city where he was accused of committing the crime. Still, he was arrested.
But that future is already here for the people of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Last April, the government of Buenos Aires announced that the city’s subway cameras would be connected to a system called the Fugitive Facial Recognition System. Three weeks later, the system was operational. For almost a year, the residents of this city of 3 million have lived under the surveillance of live facial recognition…