Whether the Internet represents the greatest boon to freedom of expression, or the most powerful tool of government surveillance yet developed, is the subject of ongoing debate.
But a new twist to the old conundrum recently emerged, in the form of a proposed service named Internet Eyes, which promises to allow the public to spy on itself.
Described as an ‘online instant event notification system’, the Internet Eyes service proposes that businesses volunteer direct links to their CCTV feeds to be viewed by members of the public who have registered with the website. Users who successfully catch criminals in the act are then entered into a monthly draw for a £1,000 ‘crime fighting jackpot’.
The people behind the website – which was due to launch in November – claim that thousands of Internet users have already signed up to the scheme, but the concept has raised a number of questions over data protection and privacy.
Pressure groups No CCTV and Privacy International to file an official complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office, expressing concerns that it would be impossible to determine who exactly would be watching the feeds due to viewers potentially using web proxies, registering under false names, or even watch a feed over someone’s shoulder.
“There is a massive privacy issues with this website,” commented Charles Farriar, a spokesman for No CCTV. “Within the current framework there are some guidelines to the use [of CCTV] and this flies in the face of those.”
Data retention is a major issue with Internet Eyes, Farriar adds, as there is no physical way of preventing users from taking screen grabs and video clips of CCTV footage, even if this amounts to just pointing a camera at the computer screen.
Under ICO’s good practice guidelines, organisations may hold CCTV footage for 30 days before it must be deleted – something that Farriar insists the majority comply with – but the Internet Eyes would make it possible for anonymous third parties, in this instance the website’s users, to retain the footage for longer.
The ICO is currently conducting an investigation into the service. It has previously stated that it is ‘inappropriate’ to release CCTV images for “entertainment purposes or to place them on the Internet” and that when they are disclosed, it should only be to a relevant law enforcement agency.
Regardless of the ICO’s verdict, Farriar believes that the case is an example of privacy being sacrificed to accommodate technological advancements. “There is a worrying trend to just destroy privacy,” he argues.