Law and Society@Kwantlen

Using data doubles & function creeps to explain police databases


When it comes to the privacy of individuals, it is a very touchy topic because people want to be able to go about their daily lives without worrying if anyone is spying or monitoring their activities. The government plays a large role when it comes to the privacy of citizens through surveillance, CCTV cameras, personal identity records etc. Many say that this is an invasion of their privacy and should be outlawed but the government responds by saying that it is essential for the safety and security of all citizens. The Toronto Star news corporation did an investigation on the police to see whether they are recording appropriate and relevant information in their Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) databases. After a lengthy analysis, they found out that in Canada, around 420,000 individuals’ names and other personal information are in police databases even though they have never been convicted of a crime in their life. Although these individuals have never been convicted of a crime, their names appear in the databases for other reasons such as mental illnesses and being charged with a crime; essentially any personal information given to the police during any sort of interaction with them remains in their system regardless of the significance of the incident. It seems unfair to record this information of a person because it attaches a label to them and judges a person’s entire character based on this information. For example, many places require a criminal record check to see if individuals have a clean background; the information in the police databases shows that they are ‘dangerous’ based on crimes that they have never been convicted for; they might not even be posed as a threat at all in fact (The Toronto Star, 2014).

The Toronto Star mentioned a lady named Diane who was wrongly accused of assault on her ex-spouse; as a result, she had great difficulty trying to keep her job as a counsellor, because of a false accusation against her, when a background check was required for her. Although it was a withdrawn assault charge, it still remained in the police database and judged her to be a person who committed crime in the past even though she had done nothing. She finally had her charge removed from the police database after many unsuccessful appeal attempts; unfortunately, many other people remain on the police databases even though they aren’t deemed a threat to society. The CPIC was initially developed to only record personal information of individuals with criminal charges or convictions but now it is being used to store personal information of anyone that interacts with the police, even if they don’t have any charges or convictions against them. Individuals with criminal charges and convictions would usually have the charges removed after a certain period of time but now it is almost impossible to have any sort of information from the CPIC removed, making it very difficult and frustrating for individuals with no criminal past. Some Criminologists say that it’s not necessary to maintain non-convicted records because it is irrelevant and the purpose of the police databases is to only record important information that deems individuals a threat based on convictions (The Toronto Star, 2014).

Haggerty and Ericson discuss the notion of data doubles and function creeps to explain why any piece of information of a person is kept in the police databases regardless of it being irrelevant. Every person has a data double which is a profile of their ‘digital footmarks’ left in electronic information. The data doubles are used by the government and other places to differentiate between categories of individuals for marketing and institutional agenda purposes. For instance, data doubles are used for monitoring individuals known to be a threat or causing civil disobedience in society. Function creeps are another surveillance technique in which it is a process where information gathering procedures are justified and approved for a particular application and are being used for purposes that were not initially designed for. Function creeps is used by the police to ‘leak’ or relay vital information about individuals in the database to places that deal with them in order to assess and evaluate their level of threat. These function creeps may cause problems because they are only designed for a single purpose in which new surveillance techniques can be found in a system that was not originally created for that specific purpose; then again they may be beneficial but it is hard to predict the uses for them in the future (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006).

According to the Toronto Star investigation, the need to record personal information in the CPIC databases is to ensure the safety and security of the public and the police themselves when dealing with individuals on the job. This information is also being recorded into databases for the purpose of data doubles so that the police can easily access it according to the categories that individuals are placed in, when assessing and responding to a situation. These data doubles indicate a reliable prediction towards the assessment and discretion that should be made by police officers towards various individuals with criminal charges and convictions; this is said to simply be in the best interests of the police and the public while looking out for their safety by taking appropriate actions. Furthermore, function creeping will permit the police to use the information in the databases for other purposes than it was originally intended for, in the future; this could be very useful and vital information to have in hand in an emergency situation and whatnot. Critics argue that the CPIC databases are a form of government surveillance and that it is an invasion of people’s privacy because individuals’ personal information is stored in the system and impossible to remove even if they haven’t even committed a crime. All of this personal information stored in databases, along with the concepts of data doubles and function creeping, could potentially mean the difference between effectively and efficiently handling a situation or letting another crime occur when it could have been prevented through these security measures.


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.

Robert Cribb, Jim Rankin, & Andrew Bailey. (2014, May 25). 420,000 in police database never convicted: Analysis. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from