Every Google search, credit card purchase, social media interaction, and doctor’s visit leave traces of information about you, where you’ve been, who you’ve interacted with, and what you like. What’s more, advertisers, data brokers, and government agencies can collect and analyze the digital breadcrumbs you leave behind as you go about your day. Welcome to the world of ‘big data.’
While data-driven technologies may be used for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole, they run an equal risk of entrenching discrimination and exacerbating various forms of inequality. The realm of criminal justice is no exception; big data has both the potential to infuse fairness into the administration of justice, and, more worryingly, expedite the reproduction of existing biases. Below, we outline what ‘big data’ is, how it is used in the context of criminal justice in Canada and beyond, and how we might think about the potential beneficial and detrimental effects of these technologies on our society.