Controversial thief-spotter website launches overseas
Australians are now able to view CCTV footage in UK stores and receive rewards for spotting thieves after a controversial website expanded down under.
Cornwall-based Internet Eyes offers rewards of up to £250 a month to people who detect shoplifting and other crimes on a network of security cameras.
Its expansion into Australia means users some 12,000 miles away will be able to access footage from 200 cameras over the internet and pocket cash for identifying suspects.
Website founder Tony Morgan said CCTV was failing as a deterrent because shop-owners do not have time to watch the footage and this move would provide 24-hour coverage.
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But civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch (BB Watch) said the website was "a sad indictment of how out-of-control the British obsession with CCTV has become".
BB Watch director Nick Pickles said: "This is a deviant's dream, giving armchair snoopers the ability to sit and watch CCTV footage from across the country at their leisure.
"The people watching these cameras have no training, no legal oversight and have to pay to use the service."
He went on: "What kind of person volunteers to spend their time watching CCTV cameras in shops they have no connection with in the vague hope of winning a prize?
"Given users don't know where the camera they are watching is located, it's also impossible for them to raise an alarm with the police."
He said he was baffled that the system was legal and said he thought it puts privacy at risk.
Pool-based Internet Eyes, which has around 8,000 subscribers and six employees, is available for £1.99 a month or £15.99 a year with each viewer allowed five alerts a month when they believe they have spotted a crime.
The viewer can watch ten minutes of footage at a time before the camera switches location. Users cannot access camera footage within 30 miles of their own location.
Shop-owners receive an email with a 30-second video clip of the moments leading up to the alert. If the alert results in detecting a crime, the viewer accrues reward points.
Mr Morgan, who also runs a B&B in Dawlish, Devon, said: "We find it difficult to see what we're doing wrong.
"CCTV was a massive deterrent. It's no longer a deterrent because nobody is watching the cameras. The shopkeeper doesn't have time – all we're doing is watching the CCTV for him."
Mr Morgan said Australian viewers, who were offered the service from December 21, would be up to 12,000 miles away and were unlikely to recognise anyone in the footage.
Last year the Government's surveillance camera commissioner warned that advances in CCTV technology could breach British human rights laws unless they are properly regulated.
High-definition cameras that can recognise people's faces from up to half-a-mile away are being installed all over the country without any public consultation, Andrew Rennison said.
He is expected to report back to Parliament with any concerns over how CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems are being used.