By Tom Burton
Cameras with a built-in encryption system could help protect photographers, filmmakers and their subjects in high-risk situations.
In an open letter to camera manufacturers, the Freedom of the Press Foundation said that while encryption is common in smart phones and many online messaging systems, still and video cameras currently do not come with this security feature.
The letter was signed by more than 150 photojournalists and documentary filmmakers, many of whom work in some of the most dangerous regions in the world. It was also backed by the National Press Photographers Association as well as the International Documentary Association, Field of Vision and Sundance’s documentary Films.
Photojournalists and documentarians routinely face threats from corrupt law enforcement or border agents, terrorists and criminals. The Committee to Protect Journalists told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that these incidents are so common that they can’t “realistically track them all.”
Images taken from photojournalists could be destroyed to cover up stories of corrupt agencies or be used to track the subjects for retribution.
While the letter comes from a group of professionals, the ability to protect footage and photos on your camera would protect anyone.
Avi S. Adelman is an NPPA member who signed the letter. He describes himself as a citizen journalist and does not make a full-time living from his news photography. However, he has had incidents where law enforcement tried to stop him from taking photos, including an incident in February 2016 where he faced criminal trespass charges which were later dropped.
“I’m a normal person,” and not a staff journalist, said Adelman. An encryption system on his cameras would help him keep his photos safe, even under the pressure of an officer, he said.
“It would be very difficult for them to force me to do anything illegal,” such as give up his photos without a warrant. said Adelman.
This is lthe etter sent to Canon. Similar letters were sent to Nikon, Sony, Olympus and Fuji:
We, the undersigned documentary filmmakers and photojournalists, are writing to urge your company to build encryption features into your still photo and video camera products. These features, which are currently missing from all commercial cameras on the market, are needed to protect our safety and security, as well as that of our sources and subjects worldwide.
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.
We work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often attempting to uncover wrongdoing in the interests of justice. 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.
Many technology companies have in recent years embraced encryption technology, often including it in their products and enabling it by default. Indeed, encryption has, in some sectors, become an industry-best practice. Apple’s iPhones encrypt all data stored on them by default, as do many phones running Google’s Android operating system; text messages and voice calls made with WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime, and Signal are all protected using end-to-end encryption technology; and laptops and desktop computers running modern versions of Microsoft Windows and macOS encrypt all data stored by default too.
However, we face a critical gap between the moment we shoot our footage and the first opportunity to get that footage onto more secure devices.
As filmmakers and photojournalists who value our own safety and the safety of our sources and subjects, we would seek out and buy cameras that come with built-in encryption. Adding these data security features to your product line would give your company a significant competitive advantage over other camera manufacturers, none of whom currently offer this feature.
Beyond the commercial motivation for adding encryption features, we know your company has commendably committed to corporate social responsibility. Building encryption into your products is not just about helping the filmmakers and photojournalists who buy them, but about making the world a better place. As filmmakers and photojournalists, we use our lenses to hold powerful people to account — and ultimately to change society for the better. Encryption features will allow us to continue to tell the most important stories, from some of the most dangerous places in the world.
You can help us reach that goal by starting to work towards building encryption into your camera products.
Thank you for your consideration.
Over 150 Filmmakers, Photographers, and Media Workers Around the World
To read the announcement and see the list of photographers and filmmakers who signed, visit the Freedom of the Press Foundation story here.