Does VIPER bite? Controversial police scheme targets students

Concerns have been raised over a controversial police scheme which has been offering students in the Union a cash incentive for personal information.

The company known as VIPER (Video Identification Parade Electronic Recording) has been operating in LUU for the past few days, giving students five pounds in exchange for a digital image of their face to be used in police line-ups.

Consenting students had a moving image of their head and shoulders filmed, as well as giving their age and nationality.

VIPER collects a national database of images which are shown on a DVD to witnesses in a line-up which includes the suspect. The measure replaces traditional police identity parades after they were scrapped in favour of the electronic system.

The scheme came under fire when it was first released when a spokesperson from ex-offenders charity Unlock said it could ‘simply lead to more miscarriages of justice’.

Graphic Design student Sophia Emekay told The Gryphon, ‘Getting students to participate by paying them feels really coercive and I doubt everyone really understands the impact. It raises a lot of questions on privacy and to have it in the Union implies that they are endorsing it’.

A final year student of International Relations added, ‘It is deeply unsettling and concerning to see West Yorkshire police and their affiliates present in the Union effectively bribing students in return for personal information. LUU should be a safe space for all students, yet the presence of police makes many feel deeply uncomfortable’.

Another student explained, ‘I’d be very wary of whatever contract we sign’.

The VIPER website reads, ‘All personal information supplied is stored securely in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Any personal information provided will not appear on the video identification parade, only a moving image of your head and shoulders will be visible’.

Police argue that the scheme makes identity parades cheaper and less traumatic for victims, and leads to ‘more accurate identification of suspects’.

A study by the University of London found that the use of video-recorded line-ups produces less ethnic bias against suspects than traditional identity parades.

Abla Klaa

Charlotte Mason

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