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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Computer owners are being invited to scour CCTV footage and spot crimes being committed from the comfort of their own homes in a move branded as "sick" by civil liberties campaigners.
A new British company called Internet Eyes is signing up viewers to watch live streams of CCTV cameras from shops and businesses and report anything they believe to be suspicious.
"People have voyeuristic tendencies," Managing Director of Internet Eyes Tony Morgan told Reuters, explaining why he believes people will sign up.
"How many people watch Big Brother after the lights go out and nothing is happening? Internet Eyes has got something to watch that is interesting.
"We are doing something that is needed, crime is going up, burglaries are going up. It will stop a lot of crime," he said.
A monthly reward of 1,000 pounds ($1,600) will be paid out to the person who reports the most crimes.
But at least one civil liberties group has condemned the idea.
"It is a distasteful and worrying development of surveillance society and where it is going," Charles Farrier, spokesman for the No CCTV campaign group said, likening it to the Big Brother society of George Orwell's "1984."
"CCTV has been proved to be ineffective and they are trying to capitalize on this which is sick," Farrier said.
He dubbed the 1,000 pound monthly payouts as a "cheap gimmick," but Morgan defended them as a reward not a prize.
"It's a reward for sitting there and watching and reporting a crime. I've got no problem with that being rewarded," he said.
Shops and businesses will pay 20 pounds a month to have their CCTV cameras featured on the website www.interneteyes.co.uk.
At any given time, live footage from four different cameras will be shown. The locations will be kept secret and will change every 10 minutes.
If viewers see something suspicious, the site allows them send an instant SMS message to the shopkeeper with a screen grab of what they are reporting.
To deter people from sending too many false alarms, the first 3 texts a month will be free, after that they will cost 1 pound each.
Internet Eyes will launch toward the end of November, focusing at first on the Stratford-upon-Avon area of central England.
The company said it was in negotiations with local police about how they could potentially join forces with the amateur crime-fighting venture.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) declined to comment on the scheme.
Editing by Steve Addison