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.
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.
“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. It’s a pointless and perverted system that puts privacy at risk and it baffles me that it’s even legal.”
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 10 minutes of footage at a time before the camera switches location. Users can not 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 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.”
Last year Government surveillance camera commissioner Andrew Rennison warned that advances in CCTV technology could breach British human rights laws unless they are properly regulated.