A CONTROVERSIAL online business which allows people to monitor a shop's CCTV system from their own homes has been launched in Newton Abbot.
Internet Eyes allows people to sign up, watch CCTV and get a 'reward' if they spot crooks committing crimes.
The new scheme, which has previously attracted criticism from civil rights campaigners, is up against an authority-led CCTV system which has picked up awards for its performance.
Launched in Newton Abbot, Internet Eyes is the brainchild of Dawlish businessman Tony Morgan.
The website works by linking CCTV cameras in shops directly with the viewing public over the internet.
People pay a £12.99 annual subscription which allows them to scan four screens at the same time. If they spot something untoward they can press an 'alert' button which sends an instant text message with an image to the nominated shop assistant or manager.
The shop can then decide whether to tackle any suspected shoplifter or to call security.
Subscribers are eligible for a share in a £1,000 reward pot if suspicious incidents are spotted.
Mr Morgan said: "The problem with CCTV is that while cameras are practically everywhere, there's hardly anyone watching them in real time.
"People know this, so CCTV is no longer the deterrent it used to be.
"Internet Eyes is about putting the shop owners and managers back in control of security and it's allowing the community to get involved and help to stamp out the crimes that cost us all in terms of increased insurance and shop-prices."
Stephen Adams, manager of Costcutters in Queen Street, Newton Abbot, endorsed the site saying: "I am very excited by the prospect of this service which I feel meets my requirements to help me reduce shrinkage, further protect my staff and save me money."
Despite the firm's requirement of adherence to strict data protection and privacy regulations, the new service has been criticised by Dawlish anti-CCTV campaigner Peter Harry who claimed it was 'Big Brother-style snooping'.
Mr Morgan said the site development has involved legal experts and internet developers.
The Information Commissioner's Office is the UK's independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest and can take action when the law is broken.
An ICO spokesman said: "Our CCTV code of practice makes it clear that CCTV operators should use appropriately trained staff to monitor images.
"We have provided advice to Internet Eyes on its own data protection compliance. We will be checking to ensure it has followed this and investigate any complaints we receive."
Devon and Cornwall Police's force crime reduction advisor Robert Bunney said police supported the principal of Internet Eyes as long as legal compliance was met.
He said: "It is supported on the principal that it will improve community safety. But that principal is only supported if all legal compliance is met."
Newton Abbot is the home of Teignbridge's CCTV network which is operated by Teignbridge Council in partnership with police and Newton Abbot Business Security Group.
In 2007 it was awarded a police commendation for its crime-busting work. Last year was directly responsible for 573 arrests and the recovery of nearly £60,000 of stolen goods.
A Teignbridge Council spokesman said: "While we can understand the aspirations of the service, our CCTV network will not be open to the Internet Eyes website in any way. We take privacy seriously and use fully trained operators who adhere to stringent rules to protect people's privacy."