Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Lindy McDowell: No prizes for a crazy online spies scheme

Tom Jones revealed he was considered for the James Bond role

In the same week that it’s revealed that Tom Jones could have been 007 (apparently he was once considered for the film role of James Bond) we are presented with an even more intriguing possibility.

Now we all can sign up for spying. A new website is looking for what’s termed, citizen spies — people who will trawl CCTV footage and report back on crimes they spot being committed.

What’s more they will get paid for this. Not an awful lot as it turns out — “up to £1,000” according to reports.

Still.

If you fear George Osborne is about to swipe your child benefit it could be a potential replacement option.

Live footage from shops, businesses and even city streets will be streamed on to the computers of those who sign up for this service. According to the company behind the scheme, subscribers who spot crimes taking place will qualify for spot prizes. It’s a bit like playing Bingo. Only with shoplifters.

Subscribers (you have to pay around £12 a year to sign up for the scheme) will have no say over the areas from which they will receive video. So you won’t be able to get your mate to drop in to the local supermarket and act suspiciously just to help you win this month’s crime buster bonus.

Some shopkeepers have enthusiastically greeted the initiative as a useful new option to help them cut down on pilfering.

But needless to say the civil liberties people aren’t exactly cart-wheeling with delight at the thought of heaven-knows-who snooping on all of us.

My major concern, however, would be the logical follow-on. What next?

What happens when Citizen Bond at Snoop Central in the back bedroom — or more likely on the works computer when the boss isn’t looking — spots Chummy moving in to nick a Pot Noodle?

What then? We’re told that the eagle-eyed spy will immediately transmit a message that will alert staff in the store And, ummm, the staff will do what?

For a start it’s a distinct possibility that, by the time all this is processed and received, the guilty party will have legged it.

But if he hasn’t, who’s going to approach him?

And if he has got away, how easy is it going to be making sure the right person gets nicked?

CCTV pics are notoriously poor quality. And criminals are notoriously good at ensuring they can’t be identified.

Also, as we are currently aware in Northern Ireland, there may be tricky human rights issues concerning minors. (Would you feel happy knowing that every time you took your kids into a store some unidentified person/persons was spying on them from afar?)

Most crucially of all, when a crime is reported via the citizen spy network who’s going to nick the villain? Citizen cops?

The truth is the police are having difficulty enough keeping up with crimes they detect themselves. With all those amateur sleuths on the job, they’ll be snowed under. Plus when these newly spotted criminals come to court (more money for lawyers: at least somebody will be pleased) how stiff will be the reprimand?

Will it cost the system more to process them than it currently costs the long-suffering business community to fork out for what they take?

Above all what happens when some totally innocent, but suspiciously dithering shopper gets accused? Who gets sued there?

Maybe these are just teething difficulties. The scheme does not appear entirely without merit. Maybe it might work.

But the introduction of citizen spying is hardly fair on the law-abiding majority of people who should be able to go about their business without being ogled by online Hetty Wainthropp and Hercule Poirot.

We all know crime shouldn’t pay. Neither should voyeurism.

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