TILT seminar : Bert Jaap Koops

Date: Time: 13:30 Location: Zoom meeting

13.30 – 14.30
The Concept of Function Creep

Function creep – the expansion of a system or technology beyond its original purposes – is a well-known phenomenon in STS, technology regulation, and surveillance studies. Correction: it is a well-referenced phenomenon. Yearly, hundreds of publications use the term to criticise developments in technology regulation and data governance. But why function creep is problematic, and why authors call system expansion ‘function creep’ rather than ‘innovation’, is underresearched. If the core problem is unknown, we can hardly identify suitable responses; therefore, we first need to understand what the concept actually refers to.

Surprisingly, no-one has attempted an in-depth conceptualisation of what ‘function creep’ means. In this presentation, based on a recent paper (*), I will fill this gap in the literature, by analysing and defining ‘function creep’. First, I analyse what ‘function creep’ refers to, through semiotic analysis of the term and its role in discourse. Second, I discuss concepts that share family resemblances, including other ‘creep’ concepts and many theoretical notions from STS, economics, sociology, public policy, law, and discourse theory. Based on this, I propose to define function creep as an imperceptibly transformative and therewith contestable change in a data-processing system’s proper activity.

What distinguishes function creep from innovation is that it denotes some qualitative change in functionality that causes concern not only because of the change itself, but also because the change is insufficiently acknowledged as transformative and therefore requiring discussion. Argumentation theory illuminates how the pejorative ‘function creep’ functions in debates: it makes visible that what looks like linear change is actually non-linear, and simultaneously calls for much-needed debate about this qualitative change.


(*) Bert-Jaap Koops (2021), ‘The Concept of Function Creep’, 13 Law, Innovation and Technology (1) (forthcoming), available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3547903.

Prof.dr. Bert Jaap Koops  is Professor of Regulation & Technology at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT), the Netherlands. His main research fields are cybercrime, cyber-investigation, privacy, and data protection. He is also interested in topics such as DNA forensics, identity, digital constitutional rights, ‘code as law’, and regulatory implications of human enhancement, genetics, robotics, and neuroscience. With a personal postdoc (1999), VIDI (2003) and VICI (2014) grant, Koops is one of the few Dutch researchers who received all three stages of NWO’s (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) personal research-grant scheme. From 2005-2010, he was a member of De Jonge Akademie, a young-researcher branch of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the 2016/2017 academic year, he was Distinguished Lorentz Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS).


Moderator: Esther Keymolen