Data Doubles and Function Creep Within Police Databases

It has recently come to the attention of the Toronto Star that hundreds of thousand of people are listed within the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) despite having no convictions or charges. Many of these people are people who have mental health issues. As of currently there is not legislation around the situation which leaves police to do as they please. Ann Cavoukin (Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner), states that new legislation is needed which directs the police on what information they are able to give to employers, volunteer organizations and governments. People who have not even committed a criminal offence are listed within CPIC and it affects their lives negatively.

People like Diane, has had her life affected negatively due to the CPIC. Regarding an incident where her spouse committed self-harm and falsely reported to the police that Diane attacked him, she was arrested and charged. After this incident, 11 months later the charges were withdrawn but Diane’s name remained in CPIC. Diane ran into problems with this when her workplace required a “vulnerable sector police check.” Of course within this check the incident that had taken place even though the charges were withdrawn had come up. Diane eventually removed the charge within CPIC only after multiple appeals. CPIC should be used for containing criminal records only of those charged and convicted in order to keep track of people with an actual criminal record. Police may argue that it is used for safety of the person, community and just to keep track of the individual. But due to the fact that people’s lives are being affected by this negatively, the names of those not charged should not remain stored.

The terms “data double and “function creep” help us make sense of the results of the Toronto Star investigation. These terms, discussed by Ericson and Haggerty are as follows: data double is defined as “our vital/informational profiles that circulate in various computers and contexts of practical application.” 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.” This term applies directly, the police are using CPIC, beyond what it is supposed to do. It is just supposed to carry the names of people who have a criminal record, but instead the police are using it to carry the names of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, who have not even been charged or convicted. Yet these names remain within CPIC, and are affecting lives when this should not be happening within the first place. New legislation is indeed needed in order to protect Canadians from harm which is caused by CPIC.

 References

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.

Carlson, J. (2014, May 24). 420,000 in police database never convicted: Analysis. Toronto Star. Retrieved from:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/05/24/420000_in_police_database_never_convicted_analysis.html

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One response to “Data Doubles and Function Creep Within Police Databases

  1. There is considerable room for expansion here. Additional discussion of the applicability of the concepts of data double and function creep would be welcome.