A new web service aims to recruit tens of thousands of unpaid watchmen to monitor neglected CCTV cameras nationwide.
Internet Eyes, a start up based in Stratford-upon-Avon, plans to charge businesses £20 per month for members of its website to watch live camera feeds and report incidents via text message.
In return, the members will be entered into a crime-fighting league, receiving points for each genuine incident reported. At the end of each month the top scorer will receive a £1,000 cash reward.
"It's not a game. We're fighting crime and terrorism," Tony Morgan, the businessman behind the idea told The Register*.
The service launches next month in its home town. Morgan then plans to quickly expand to cover "as many cameras as possible" nationally.
As an inspiration he cites recent Metropolitan Police figures showing that fewer than one crime is solved for every 1,000 CCTV cameras deployed in London. "There's 4.2 million CCTV cameras in this country and nobody watches them," he said.
Internet Eyes will harvest video from existing CCTV networks as well as offering to install compatible cameras. The feeds will be served up to website users at random without directly disclosing their location, which Morgan puts forward as a privacy and security measure.
To discourage frivolous reports, users will be allowed three alert messages per month.
Internet Eyes will then relay their report to the camera owner with a screen grab attached. Morgan said "as many people as possible" will watch every feed, but only one alert per incident will reach the camera owner.
He added he had taken legal advice and been assured Internet Eyes will comply with data protection and privacy laws.
In July this year, London's top CCTV policeman said no more cameras should be installed because the current glut of data cannot be usefully processed.
Many technology firms have been working for years - with limited success - on systems to enable automated monitoring of the UK's CCTV cameras via facial recognition and threat detection. Major academic effort is being thrown at what's viewed as a problem by authorities.
Starting small, Internet Eyes will instead encourage the British public to increase surveillance with the chance to "potentially become a hero and save lives" and win £1,000. ®
*As well as crime and risks to life, the Internet Eyes website suggests users also look out for "spooky ghosts".