Over 150 photojournalists and filmmakers demand better encryption in cameras

Posted on Dec 15 2016 - 5:42am by Huzoor Bux


Photojournalists and filmmakers of all stripes have joined together to send a message to the world’s leading camera manufacturers: give us better tools to protect our media. 

In an open letter published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, over 150 concerned photojournalists and documentary filmmakers from around the world signed on to urge Nikon, Sony, Canon, Olympus and Fuji to develop better encryption systems for cameras.  

Although all types of journalists face risks while covering controversial or dangerous events, the work of photographers and videographers is especially vulnerable to tampering and theft. Most modern devices that store data, like computers and smartphones, provide built-in encryption systems. 

Cameras, however, are behind the times. The undersigned’s concern about the risks of working with unencrypted cameras is clear in the text of the letter: “Without encryption capabilities, photographs and footage that we take can be examined and searched by the police, military, and border agents in countries where we operate and travel, and the consequences can be dire.”   

Real world problems

This suppression of the press through camera confiscation is a very real problem. In the post presenting the open letter, the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm cites the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ claims that “such attacks are so common that we could not realistically track all these incidents.”

This doesn’t just happen in war zones or under authoritarian regimes, either. Earlier this year, Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou was detained and denied entry into the US. He was on assignment for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to cover the Standing Rock protests.    

In a powerful first-person account of the experience for Time, Ou recalls parallels to similar encounters in Crimea, and other places where the free press isn’t so welcome. 

Although the encrypted phones he was carrying weren’t compromised during the incident, an unencrypted camera could have given the border officials easy access to sensitive information.

Unsurprisingly, Ou is among those who signed the open letter. 

Other notable signees include 15 Academy Award nominees and winners. But the list is also filled with freelance and independent photographers and filmmakers, who might be especially cognizant of the need for protections while covering stories without the benefit of institutional support.  

Other incentives

Bringing encryption to cameras won’t just help protect vulnerable data — the letter promises that it would also give such products a competitive advantage in the market. Professionals in all photo-based fields would likely be attracted to the additional security of an encrypted camera. 

The Freedom of the Press Foundation and the undersigned aren’t just asking for progress — they’re willing to develop encryption solutions together with manufacturers. The letter welcomes the chance to work with the camera companies to find “the right way to provide encryption in their products.” 

Mashable has reached out to the companies named in the letter for comment, and will update the story upon receiving response.

It’s important to note that camera encryption alone won’t solve the issue of actually preserving vulnerable data. As the letter states, there’s a “critical gap” between the moment an image or video is captured and when the data can be moved to a more secure device for storage. Even if a camera is encrypted, its footage can still be destroyed or seized along with the device.

For now, however, having encryption to ensure basic data protection is the main concern. With photojournalists and filmmakers putting so much at risk, their work — and sometimes much more — depends on it. 



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