Filmakers And Photojournalists Petition Camera Manufacturers For Encryption To Stop Illegal Seizure

When the topic of encryption comes up, it is often related to smartphones and tablets, and the differing opinions on the matter between hardware makers such as Google and Apple versus government agencies. Those are not the only areas where encryption matters. In an open letter to the camera makers around the world, Freedom of the Press Foundation makes a plea to build encryption into still photo and video cameras to protect the "safety and security" of photojournalists and filmmakers, along with their sources.

The open letter is signed by more 150 documentary filmmakers and photojournalists. It is an issue that resonates throughout the industry and is of concern to both those who work independently as freelancers and those who are employed by companies such as Sundance and Getty Images.


"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," the letter states. "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."

This is no small problem. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a leading organization that documents such incidents, confiscation of equipment happens far too often to realistically track. The organization also says that equipment seizures are a "blatant attempt to silence and intimidate" filmmakers and photojournalists, and that they are regularly targeted and threatened.

Freedom of the Press Foundation points out that camera makers have fallen behind the times in encryption compared to other technology companies. All iPhones and most Android devices have built-in encryption, and the same goes for many communication services, such as WhatsApp.

"Yet footage stored on the professional cameras most commonly used today are still left dangerously vulnerable," Freedom of the Press Foundation says.

The organization acknowledges that finding the right way to implement encryption into cameras and video recorders will require some research and development. It also said it is will to have conversations with companies such as Nikon, Sony, Canon, and others on how best to approach this. The smart ones will take the organization up on its offer, as the first to manufacture and sell a competitive camera with built-in encryption is likely to see a lot of sales.

"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," Freedom of the Press Foundation says.

In addition to posting the open letter, the organization has sent similar letters addressed directly to various camera makers.