Dundee City Council is to fund a £550,000 CCTV system that can track people and flag up loitering.
It has gained criticism from civil liberties groups but city campaigners have backed the idea and believe it could help catch crooks in Dundee.
Upgrades to the Tayside public space camera system will include software that can automatically identify pedestrians and cars, and track them to keep them in view.
CCTV operators will automatically be altered to “unusual scene activity” – defined as anything from loitering to “idle objects” such as unattended bags.
There is no suggestion that the 54 new cameras will be able to identify individuals but campaigners are concerned about their potential for infringing people’s privacy.
Silkie Carlo, director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “We’re alarmed to hear about plans to monitor Dundee with these Big Brother-style surveillance cameras. People have the right to be free and do whatever they want in public spaces, as long as they’re not breaking the law.
“The idea of cameras sending off automated alerts about ‘unusual’ activity or ‘loitering’ is absurd.”
Gracie Bradley, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said: “Intrusive surveillance in our public spaces should not become the new normal.
“Surveillance makes people more likely to modify their behaviour – changing who they associate with, or which public demonstrations they attend – even when they have no intention of committing a crime.
“Without a robust legal framework to ensure that they are used lawfully, these new tools will remain open to abuse and risk infringing people’s rights. Dundee City Council should think again.”
However, Jayne Kelly, of Save Our High Street Lochee, believes the cameras’ automated software could be beneficial.
She said: “I’m kind of in favour of it. On High Street we need a greater police presence to detect things where there is an element of criminality, like people gathering to meet drug dealers. Some extra surveillance is needed.”
Councillor Alan Ross said: “The cameras chosen for the upgrade are of the highest priority and the council worked closely with Police Scotland to identify them as part of our efforts to make the city a safer place for everyone.”
Police Scotland declined to comment, saying it was unable to do so until a report on the cameras had been presented to the council on Monday.