A website which pays the public to monitor live commercial CCTV footage online has been launched in Devon. Internet Eyes will pay up to £1,000 to subscribers who regularly report suspicious activity such as shoplifting. Managing director Tony Morgan said the scheme would reduce crime and help prevent other anti-social behaviour.
But civil liberties campaigners say the idea is "distasteful" and encourages private citizens to spy on each other. The private company intends to stream live footage to subscribers' home computers from CCTV cameras installed in streets, shops and other businesses.
Mr Morgan said: "The subscribers will have access to four screens at the same time and if they see anything suspicious, they can press the 'alert' button. This then sends an instant text and picture message to the shop assistant or manager - who then makes the decision about what action to take."
He said more than 13,000 people had indicated their interest in the project but he expected more people to join "once they had something to watch".
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has allowed the company to launch its beta site after it agreed to a number of changes, including only allowing subscribers aged 18 and over to access the site.
CCTV's Charles Farrier called the scheme a "profit-making gimmick" and told the BBC he feared that people would take copies of the livestream and upload them to file-sharing networks.
He added this is encouraging a growing trend of citizen spies. If people are so concerned about crime, they should contact the police.
Although the CCTV cameras are based in stores across the UK, the rewards are open to anyone from the European Union who is registered with the site.
"They are hiding behind computer screens and willing crime to happen so they get a prize. It is a game."
One subscriber, Paul from Hammersmith, told the BBC News website he thought it was his civic duty to sign up.