The Concepts of ‘Data Double’ and ‘Function Creep’ Applied to the Toronto Star Investigation

Recently, it has been discovered by a Toronto Star analysis, that an astounding number of individuals without any charges or convictions are listed on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre) database. Many of those who are on this list have been affected in negative ways because of it. Some of these negative experiences and implications include, being denied a volunteer position within an organization because that one’s name is found to be contained within the CPIC data, an employer finding out that a person’s criminal record is not clean and choosing not to hire him/her as a measure of caution, or not being able to cross the border to the US because one has been labeled as having a , ‘mental instability’ or having made a ‘suicide attempt,’ (The Star, 2014) all of which are things that should not be getting in the way of a person trying to: travel, obtain employment, or give back to their community through volunteer work. Ontario’s privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian even went so far as to say that it ‘ruins lives’ (The Star, 2014).

The RCMP’s reasoning behind collecting and recording this information on individuals, regardless of whether or not they have been charged and/or convicted are all follows: it is done for the safety of the person themselves, the safety of the general public and for the safety of police officers, in the case that they ever come in contact with those people. Sgt. Greg Cox, an RCMP spokesperson stated, ‘The information allows police services to be aware of individuals that may be a danger to themselves or others and assists police in determining appropriate responses or actions to take relative to that individual’ (The Star, 2014).

The question remains, if these individuals have not ever been charged or convicted of an offence, then why are their names contained within the CPIC data? These include people who have: had mental health issues or have threatened or attempted to commit suicide in the past. Even those who have had someone call the police to complain about them, where no charge or conviction resulted, are included (Toronto Star, 2014). Every interaction involving the police is recorded and stored.

CPIC is clearly a form of surveillance, defined by Haggerty and Ericson as, the ‘collection and analysis of information about populations in order to govern their activities’ (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006, p. 3). It is the amalgamation of different technologies of surveillance to create a master source about the many details in an individual’s life. I think Haggerty and Ericson would consider CPIC to be a form of “computerized ‘datavalence'” (as cited in Haggerty and Ericson, 2006, p. 4), in which large amounts of information are being processed and evaluated electronically in order to adhere to the idea of risk management and safety in this particular case.

The concepts of ‘function creep’ and ‘data double’ can help make sense of what appears to be a serious issue for many citizens of the public surrounding the contents of CPIC data. The term ‘function creep,’ is defined as ‘the gradual widening of the use of a technology or system beyond the purpose for which it was originally intended.” ( which is exactly what seems to have happened with the RCMP’s CPIC database. The online CPIC data system was originally created in 1972 for the purposes of recording the personal information of those who had either been charged or convicted of a crime. Those who had been charged would have the charge removed after 5 years, and those who had been convicted would have that information absolved after a certain period of time, depending on the nature of the case (The Star, 2008). The database was intended to be used solely for those reasons, however these original guidelines of are not being adhered to. The RCMP has slowly extended beyond this scope and has started to record data that should not have been recorded in the first place. In addition to that, information about individuals (who don’t have charges/convictions) is not being expunged after a certain amount of time. Anne, a woman who had a bad experience with CPIC data coming back to haunt her, made a powerful statement when she said, ‘The convicted are protected. But these non-conviction record releases definitely violate my constitutional rights to be heard, to defend myself against these false records (The Star, 2014).

This has caused an uproar in many individuals who are having a tough time being accepted into volunteer organizations, getting jobs and even crossing the border without issues arising in regards to their name popping up in CPIC data even though they have not committed a crime but are simply in the database for the sake of ‘surveillance,’ which Haggerty and Ericson define as, ‘the collection and analysis of information about populations in order to govern their activities’ (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006). The CPIC database helps to create what is termed as, a ‘data double,’ a compilation of information about a person from various sources which are normally separate from one another, but once pieced together, form a digital version of the self which is sent to a central location and then dispersed amongst technologies (i.e. computers) in a way that serves the purposes of an institution (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006). In the case of the CPIC database, the primary purpose is said to be that of safety. The problem with this is that an individual’s entire character is being judged and based on a piece of information stored within the database which is causing individuals to experience major inconveniences and frustrations with the system, as has been demonstrated in the results of the Toronto Star analysis.

Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2006). The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility. In R. V.
Ericson & K. D. Haggerty (Eds.), The new politics of surveillance and visibility (pp. 3–25).
Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


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One response to “The Concepts of ‘Data Double’ and ‘Function Creep’ Applied to the Toronto Star Investigation

  1. This is a well-written and effective post. Great work.

    I think that Ericson’s (2007) work on Counter-law provides us with some important concepts for thinking about this sort of practice. Ericson notes that concerns about precaution, pre-emption, threats, and uncertainty have created a climate for the ‘criminalization of the merely suspicious’. In this context, concerns about guilt and innocence are seen to ‘miss the point’. Rather than asking “Can we prove that kirannatt is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?”, contemporary security agencies ask “Do we know enough about kirannat to make a determination about whether and to what extent he or she is suspicious?”. This greatly expands the desire for data collection.