A phone call during the week moved the issue of the shoplifter's photo on display behind the counter to a big new arena. The call was from a director of the company behind whotube.com, Karen Flint, after she'd read my column about a Lake Macquarie retailer who believes he has no alternative but to display in his shop photos taken from CCTV video showing shoplifters at work.
Three months ago the Flint and Saxton families of the Maitland area, former or current police officers, launched whotube.com to show the video itself, and that is displayed in much the same way video is shown on YouTube. In the whotube system a retailer loads onto the website a clip of a person who appears to be stealing and beneath the clip is a tab inviting viewers to share any information they may have about the person shown pocketing the chocolate bar, stealing the $7500 macaw or committing a robbery. That information goes directly by email to the retailer. A pointed addition is an email alert that goes to registered users within a certain distance from the scene of the alleged crime when a video is loaded, and among those may be retailers who'll recognise the thief as one of their customers, one of their customers they'll no longer want. It's free, by the way, with the website owners hoping to turn a dollar with advertising.
Karen Flint says they have been assured by lawyers that they are not breaching the law by showing such video, and I'd imagine a lawyer came up with the disclaimer at the start of each clip: "‘‘Persons depicted in footage and/or videos have not necessarily committed any crime but may be able to assist the content provider with their inquiries.’’ I like that.
Is it fair? I mean, is it fair that a woman who steals a sandwich, as one woman appears to in a Newcastle East shop, be exposed to public disgrace? Should she be excused if she was hungry or penniless? One complainant, so far the only complainant, believes showing this particular clip is unfair.
Go to whotube.com and tell us whether it is technology delivering just deserts. Type Benalla into the Location box and see a woman taking a wallet left behind by a previous customer; type in Shortland and see an elderly man in a red hat appear to steal a chocolate bar or confectionery as he leaves a newsagency with a newspaper. Just deserts? And would you hit the tab to give the name? Have you?