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SURVEILLANCE CAN PAY.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

NORTHRIDGE - Forget the old maxim - crime, at least in one small way, does pay.

When Alexander and Jason Bordbar, twin brothers and heads of Philex Enterprises Inc., discovered in December 2001 that their offices had been burglarized, they didn't figure it would be a good day. The brothers' programming firm escaped unscathed, but their neighbors lost computers, printers and petty cash. To relieve their anxiety that the thieves could return, the Bordbars began looking into security.

Even the cheapest options were too expensive for them, so they set to work to adapt their own computers for surveillance purposes - a way that could alert them to intruders in the hall and within their two-room office. After a year of programming, Philex has launched Visec, a program that aims to reproduce a $1,000 security system for under $100. Motivated by their own brush with burglars, they now have their first retail product after nearly a decade in business.

``Crime can be a good thing, I guess,'' laughed Jason Bordbar, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.

Prior to developing Visec, the two 28-year-olds dealt mainly with outsource programming for other companies, Web hosting and site design. Both brothers are Van Nuys natives and graduates of the University of California, Los Angeles. Founded in 1994, Philex Enterprises tackled work projects from free software given away on the Internet.

The brothers' Visec software uses readily available technology, converting Web cams into security cameras to record the activities of unsuspecting bandits, sticky-fingered employees and ill-intentioned nannies. Once plugged in, the camera, available for about $20 at most electronics stores, feeds to Visec's motion-capture program. Powered by an algorithm that took Philex's staff of eight more than a year to develop, the software constantly compares images, detecting subtle differences.

If the pictures don't match up, this triggers the program to begin recording and uploading the images to a Web server. It then transmits alerts, delivered directly to the user's e-mail, personal digital assistant or cell phone, flashing images of the action. Once conscious of the intrusion, users can then log into the server and watch the action unfold.

In the best-case scenario, this provides solid evidence the Visec program user can present to police. In the worst case, users get all excited about nothing.

``I've watched the cleaning crew many times at home,'' said Alexander Bordbar, who works as project manager. ``That gets a little boring after awhile.''

But he'd rather be bored than burned, and security experts say the system could provide valuable information for law enforcement.

Todd Taylor, a licensed private investigator and president of Chatsworth's Allstate Investigations, said such tools are becoming increasingly popular at home and in the office.

``People use them at home to see if their spouses are cheating, or as nanny-cams,'' Taylor said. ``I've caught people stealing from me in my own house. I turned the tape over to the LAPD and they love that, when it shows the face and shows what they're taking.''

He uses professional quality systems, which can be concealed in ceiling vents, home items and other surreptitious spots, and can run more than $1,000 in costs. The Philex system is considerably less precise, but it retails for only $79.95 and is sold on the company's Web site, www.visec.net. Philex now offers strictly a PC-based system, though plans to adapt it for Macintosh users are in the works.

``We kept simplicity in mind,'' Jason Bordbar said. ``The novice can do this.''

Although the idea of spying on one's employees conjures Big Brother fantasies of perpetual surveillance, privacy expert Jens Koepke says the taping is well within the law.

`'If the computer's in a completely public location, like in a library, there's no problem,'' said Koepke, a professor of media law for California State University, Northridge. ``There's no expectation of privacy for anyone in the public sphere. The same for a business environment. Where it's semipublic, there's a little more question, but it's fairly safe. Obviously, in a private home ... it's dicier - but probably still a weak claim for someone, who's an invitee into your private home, to claim their privacy's been invaded. If they come into your home, they have to expect that their actions aren't completely private.''

``We don't want to replace closed-circuit TV,'' Alexander Bordbar said. ``We want to make security affordable with just a Web cam and a computer. Any camera will work with this, even a $5 one, though the quality won't be that good.''

``Well, we're not shooting to win an Emmy,'' his brother grinned. ``This can't prevent a crime - but it can capture one.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Jason Bordbar, vice president of sales and marketing for Philex Enterprises Inc. in Northridge, demonstrates his firm's software application called Visec, which allows users to remotely monitor activities inside a home or business for security purposes, using only a personal computer and inexpensive Web cam.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 4, 2003
Words:830
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