More than 150 documentary filmmakers are asking Nikon, Canon, and other companies to add encryption features to their cameras.
In today’s digital world, users who take privacy seriously can take comfort in the fact that most reputable smartphones encrypt their storage by default. If they want to take things one step further, they can turn to messaging apps that encrypt users’ conversations. Signal and WhatsApp are two of the biggest names in the field of encrypted chat.
Unfortunately, individuals who take an interest in documentary and/or professional filmmaking don’t enjoy those same protections.
Indeed, filmmaker Laura Poitras told WIRED Magazine she was concerned authorities would confiscate her camera and inspect her unencrypted footage while she was filming Citizenfour, a documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for which she won an Academy Award:
“When you’re in the field filming and your camera is taken by authorities, that footage is completely vulnerable. That’s where encryption is really needed.”
Poitras feels that change is needed. As a result, she and more than 150 other colleagues have signed a open letter from the Freedom of the Press Foundation asking camera-makers like Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and others to add encryption features to their cameras.
The signatories do not specify in their letter what kind of changes they would like the companies to make. Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm said he envisioned the cameras could come with an opt-in feature that would encrypt all footage as it’s captured. Users could then decrypt the footage by entering a password onto a camera or a computer where the film is uploaded.
Together, the filmmakers feel the companies have a lot to gain from adding encryption. On the one hand, they feel improved data security features would give Canon and others “a significant competitive advantage” over other manufacturers that don’t incorporate such capabilities. On the other hand, they feel the camera-makers would go on the record as upholding social responsibility.
As the filmmakers state in their letter:
“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.”
WIRED reached out to all of the camera companies named in the letter for comment. By the end of the day on 13 December, only Kodak had responded, saying that its video recorders are aimed at consumers and aren’t designed for professional filmmaking.