Free Press Group to Camera Makers: Your Devices Need Encryption

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, in conjunction with dozens of documentary filmmakers, photographers, and associations, asked some of the world’s largest camera makers to bake encryption into their devices—a feature common in most forms of modern technology.

Many photographers and filmmakers use devices that rely on some sort of encryption—whether hard drives, laptops, or other frequently used tools.

Considering that filmmakers sometimes deal with sensitive topics, that’s understandable.

But the security has its limits. One place security is lacking, as it turns out, is within the cameras themselves.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group notable for having federal whistleblower Edward Snowden on its board of directors, is working to fix this.

This week, the foundation published a letter, signed by more 150 documentary filmmakers and journalists from across the spectrum, calling on professional camera makers to build encryption into their devices. Among the camera manufacturers targeted by the foundation are Nikon, Sony, Canon, Olympus, and Fuji.

The foundation’s letter notes that because such technology is not common in professional cameras, filmmakers “face a critical gap between the moment we shoot our footage and the first opportunity to get that footage onto more secure devices.”

The issue is not a minor one for those out in the field. Trevor Timm, executive director of the group, cited comments from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which explained that confiscation of cameras by law enforcement, criminals, or intelligence agents was “so common that we could not realistically track all these incidents.”

This issue has become significant in recent years as such filmmaking has become more politically sensitive. For example, Wired notes that Director Laura Poitras, who was filming her documentary Citizenfour about Snowden even before the details about his leaks were publicly known, constantly worried that law enforcement officials would break into her Hong Kong hotel room and seize her camera.

Poitras’ camera was never taken, and Citizenfour eventually won an Oscar in 2015, but the concern is one that translates, she says.

“When you’re in the field filming and your camera is taken by authorities, that footage is completely vulnerable,” Poitras told the magazine. “That’s where encryption is really needed.”

Beyond Poitras, a few of the other notable filmmakers that signed the letter include Werner Herzog, Alex Gibney, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Matthew Heineman—all of whom have either been nominated for or won Academy Awards. A number of associations have also thrown their support behind the effort, including the National Press Photographers Association and the International Documentary Association.

So far, the response to the letter from the camera companies contacted has been muted. In comments acquired by The Verge, Nikon was noncommittal but suggested it would consider customer feedback in launching new features.

“We are constantly listening to the needs of an evolving market and considering photographer feedback, and we will continue to evaluate product features to best suit the needs of our users,” the company stated.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!