Surveillance implications: Data doubles and Function creep

In spite of never having been convicted of any criminal law in Canada, a significant portion of the Canadian population have been or are currently listed in the country’s national criminal records. The RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) holds the name of over 400,000 individuals who have never been found guilty of a crime (Carlson, 2014). Such information is available as non-conviction records, which are routinely released in police background checks at the requests of interested parties. These parties can include potential employers, educational institutions, governmental agencies, volunteer organizations, border security and others who have a vested interest in specific individuals.

In the case of Diane, whose identity is being withheld for her protection, she was arrested based on the accusations form her former boyfriend. The charges were later dropped, but still continue to pose a threat to her professional life, as the traumatic incident still holds a place on her police record. Many similar situations are a reality to hundreds of Canadians in situations similar to Diane. Ultimately, those individuals have the potential to be negatively impacted or face unfavorable consequences and ramifications, which impacts both their personal and professional lives. The victims of these police disclosures and background checks have argued that this practice is in violation of constitutional rights laid forth by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, there are “no rules, no legislation” against this procedure despite many professionals and experts calling for a transformation in legislation to bring clarity and guidance to the issue (Carlson, 2014). It has also been argued that CPIC should be exclusively used as a database for identifying an individual’s history of criminal behaviors, thus requiring a conviction. Instead, police submit data, which are indicators of character, and make a presumption that the individual is either a threat to them self or the general public.

In cases comparable to Diane, Rick Perreault was denied a volunteer position for the Children’s Aid Society due to a false report involving disciplining his son by “lightly tapping” the boy on the knee. After explaining the incident to police officers, they decided not to criminally pursue the situation. Similarly, Anne had left to a woman’s shelter in an attempt to leave her abusive husband, who was charged and convicted of domestic abuse. Her husband, then falsely accused Anne of threatening him, which the claim was determined to be unfounded (Carlson, 2014).

The concepts of data doubles and function creeps make sense of the findings of the investigation by the Toronto Star. Due to this surveillance of the non-conviction record, Diane’s incident with the police “stabilized and captured according to pre-established classificatory criteria” (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006). She became labeled by her past assault charge, despite being proven innocent and not convicted, ultimately leading to adverse effect on her professional life when her job was at risk.

With regards to the concept of a function creep, Carlson adds that a RCMP representative stated that “national Canadian criminal database includes information on charges, warrants, persons of interest, stolen property, vehicles, criminal records as well as critical public and officer safety information” (Carlson, 2014). Function creeps are legislation, which are justified for a specific purpose, but the legal restrictions are loosened, and new uses for that legislation, which were not originally planned, or even existing are found. This concept of function creeps operates opportunistically and is likely to be unanticipated, while often being difficult to convey to the public. Using the definition put forth by the spokesperson for the RCMP, it is apparent that by “disclosing [information] to prospective employers, governments or volunteer organizations undermines the lives of law-abiding Canadians”(Carlson, 2014) the national criminal database is being applied out of is original mandate, thus circulating significant debates throughout societies with the issue of privacy.


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

Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2006). The new politics of surveillance and visibility. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


1 Comment

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One response to “Surveillance implications: Data doubles and Function creep

  1. Great opening sentence. It certainly draws the reader in.

    An expanded discussion of the role of data doubles in this surveillance practice would be welcome. You provide a good discussion of function creep.

    Question: Do the surveillance practiced described in this article reflect the assumption that mere suspicion is grounds for exclusion (or other forms of security controls). If so, what are the implications?