Filmmakers, Photojournalists Call On Professional Camera Companies To Implement Encryption

An open letter written by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and signed by over 150 filmmakers and photojournalists calls on professional camera makers such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Fuji to enable encryption to protect confidential videos from seizure by oppressive governments or criminals. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is a non-profit organization that has several noteworthy members, such as “Pentagon Papers” Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, and EFF’s co-founder John Perry Barlow, on its board of directors.

Unencrypted Cameras Expose Journalists To Danger

More people realize how important encryption is to protect private information, as well as confidential work information. The problem stems not just from criminals, but also from governments that abuse their powers when journalists cross borders by demanding to look at data kept on devices such as smartphones, laptops, and even cameras.

Filmmakers and photojournalists that film documentaries or shoot photos of abuses committed by governments or terrorists in dangerous parts of the world are constantly under threat of having their videos and photos seized and destroyed. The danger is even bigger when these bad actors can see what’s on the cameras--it's not just the documentation of abuses that is exposed, but also the confidential sources that may have wanted to keep their identities hidden. Encryption would ensure those who seize their cameras couldn’t see the contents of the cameras, nor the journalists' sources.

“We work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often attempting to uncover wrongdoing in the interests of justice,” said the signatory journalists in their open letter to professional camera makers.“On countless occasions, filmmakers and photojournalists have seen their footage seized by authoritarian governments or criminals all over the world. Because the contents of their cameras are not and cannot be encrypted, there is no way to protect any of the footage once it has been taken. This puts ourselves, our sources, and our work at risk,” they added.

Is Encryption Enough?

However, encryption likely won’t solve this problem completely because the authorities in some countries may delete the data if they aren’t allowed to see what's inside. Therefore, if camera makers want to help filmmakers and photojournalists, it would also enable a “plausible deniability” functionality that would allow them to hide content without raising suspicion. The technology would allow filmmakers and photojournalist to keep videos and photos of innocuous activities while hiding the content that they would think would put them in danger.

It’s not a big surprise that camera makers haven’t enabled encryption yet, when other mobile devices such as iPhones and Android smartphones, which have already become de facto cameras for most people, already enable it by default. Professional cameras tend to have much better lenses and sensors, but they lack in modern technology and software.

Therefore, it remains to be seen if any of the major professional camera makers will implement encryption (and do it well) promptly now that a vocal group of their customers has publicly called for the feature.

We’ve asked all of the big camera makers mentioned in this article for a response to the open letter published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and we’ll update the post when we receive their replies.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • gggplaya
    Wouldn't encryption slow down write speeds??
  • epdm2be
    @GGGPLAYA: Yes.

    "...there is no way to protect any of the footage once it has been taken...."
    Perhaps not once it has been taken. But BEFORE it's taken journalists can copy their photo's to computers/phones/tablets and use appropriate software.

    If ever provided then it should be a user's choice. Not mandatory encryption across all camera's.
  • fry178
    any pics/video taken "outside" in public space are not "confidential", hence i doubt this will be fixed "quickly"..
  • fry178
    since most ssd's (also flash mem) come with encryption and they can still handle around 500MB/s (up to 3000MB for pcx drives) read/write.
    please show where there is a significant performance hit when using encryption (vs not encrypted; on same hardware).

    all android phones support encryption, so i doubt it will be an issue on prosumer/pro grade cams, where they can easily add an additional dedicated chip for encryption.
    even a UHD video will only produce ~150-200MB/s, so i dont see why it should be a problem.
  • cia1413
    @FRY178 Where is the computation for the encryption going to come from? The asic on a high end camera is 100% occupied with taking pictures, adding a more complex process will just raise the cost. How can you expect a camera manufacturer to solve this very niche problem? Why not have your backup software do this, that is a much cheaper and easier to implement solution. Are the suggesting that they never download the media to reuse cards?
  • fry178
    using it with software/afterwards will make it irrelevant for ppl in areas where they arent allowed (for whatever reason) etc.

    "oh, hey mister soldier, let me just encrypt my drive before i hand over my camera..."
    right. so it needs to be on the cam.
    and im not saying it needs to on EVERY camera.
    anyone that uses a camera for work/to make money and needs that kind of feature, should be willing to pay extra for it.

    the most cost would come from r&d on the how/where/what so to speak, but from then on would not add significantly to the cost of the cam.
    same with the chips needed. they are cheap and can be dedicated so it doesnt affect anything else on the cam.

    have you seen the overall lag between something like consumer nikon/canon compared to a sony (when taking a pic in auto mode)?
    i was done shooting 5 pics, when the others werent done with the 3rd pic.
    ergo, there are a lot of other things that will impact a cams performance much more, than something like encryption.
  • cia1413
    I work on movie and commercial sets so maybe i just don't get the environment and work flow, but I can't seem to think of ANY situation that someone doing something wrong would let you walk by with a camera period. Do you think that if you walk by someone they would just let you go because they cant see that you have the picture? Thats silly, where I see the encryption helping would be at a checkpoint or if you have to submit your computer equipment and camera for inspection at an airport or something.

    No one i know would just let there data sit on a card without backing it up to at least 2 drives as soon as they can.
  • fry178
    its not like we dont have zoom lenses..
    you can be quite far away and still get a relevant pic/video.

    not every country like the press "walking freely" around, and might force to release the storage device to them (or you dont leave).

    with the data being encrypted, at least they wouldnt know what you saw/know.
  • anbello262
    19004531 said:
    Wouldn't encryption slow down write speeds??

    Accidentally downvoted you, sorry.

    I am somewhat impressed by the outdated technology used in many "high end" devices. This is something which I have seen not only in high end cameras, but also in many other specialized devices.
  • mrmez
    19004883 said:
    any pics/video taken "outside" in public space are not "confidential", hence i doubt this will be fixed "quickly"..

    Speaking as a former photographer, that's ridiculous, and untrue.
    Pretty much every phone today is encrypted, so there are already a COUPLE of encrypted cameras floating around.

    Even photos taken without permission on private property cannot be confiscated by the land owner/security etc. Publishing them however leaves you wide open to legal action.

    There are also laws in most countries preventing a civilian from taking certain photos (kids and nudes without consent), but journalists are exempt from most of these.

    This is a good move, and will happen sooner or later.