Electronic surveillance is in.
While the government watches airports, harbors, and other sensitive installations subject to terrorist attacks, big businesses watch their employees, warehouses and offices.
But the people who sell surveillance products that combine video cameras with simple software that enables remote monitoring via the Internet are thinking even bigger.
Well, smaller, really: They want to bring video surveillance to the small business that could not otherwise afford it, and to the home, where few now think of using it.
They say their products are the best way the guy with the little shop can protect his inventory or the home-office worker out on a call can keep family members away from the desk or the PC. They also pitch their products as ideal for keeping a remote eye on the nanny or on the elderly parent who is using a spare bedroom.
"There is a very nascent movement to put video cameras in the home, but right now it's among the engineering types, the guy who goes to Radio Shack on Saturday morning," says Joe Freeman, president of J.P. Freeman, a Newton, Conn., security consulting firm.
That fascination with home surveillance is leading homeowners to spend about $100 million a year on video surveillance systems, according to Freeman, who says that businesses, by contrast, spend about $1.9 billion a year on them.
But the movement could become more mainstream if two systems I tested - Encore's Safeworld PC Surveillance Kit and Veo's Wireless Observer Network Cam - are any indication. Both monitor the area under surveillance, and, via the Internet, let you watch what is going on live.
Or both will watch for intrusions into a private space and notify you with, among other things, an e-mail if an intrusion is detected. And the cameras will record the happenings on your hard drive for your review when you get home.
In some critical ways, the efficiency of a surveillance system is a factor of price.
Safeworld's system is $79.99; you get a decent camera, but one that always has to be tethered to your PC by way of a USB cable. That means you can monitor only areas inhabited by a computer.
Moreover, to gain real-time access to the camera, you have to establish an account with Visec.net, a Web site affiliated with Safeworld's vendor. The service is free; however, if you are the impatient sort, you may not appreciate having to go online and log on to Visec every time you want to dip in to take a look at the place or people you are monitoring.
The star of Veo's $299 system is a Wi-Fi , or wireless, camera.
The Veo will communicate with a PC - or directly with a DSL or cable modem outfitted with a Wi-Fi access point such as a router - at distances up to 300 feet.
Unlike the Safeworld camera, the Veo camera gets its own IP address. Thus, it can be accessed directly from any remote computer with a browser.
Because the Veo cam has a built-in microphone, you can also hear what is going on at the locations you are monitoring. For good measure, from your remote vantage point, you can tilt the camera or have it pan its surroundings.
To get a motion sensor, a crucial component if you are not monitoring but want to be notified of intrusions, you have to spend an additional $29.99.
That the Veo can transmit wirelessly is nice. But that does not make it totally mobile. It has to be plugged into an electrical socket to function, so using it outdoors is likely to be difficult.