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.