Tech by VICE

Camera Makers Aren’t in a Hurry to Add Encryption

Last week, over 150 filmmakers and photojournalists asked major camera manufacturers to build encryption into devices. But the companies don't seem that keen.

by Joseph Cox
Dec 22 2016, 5:00pm

Image: lightpoet/ShutterStock

Cameras are missing one feature that may help journalists in sticky situations: encryption. Last week, over 150 documentary filmmakers and photojournalists signed an open letter to major camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Sony urging the companies to adopt encryption into their products.

But the manufacturers aren't exactly jumping at the chance. Out of five companies contacted by Motherboard, only two, Nikon and Olympus, responded, and neither said they would be pursuing any changes.

"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 from journalists, published by the Freedom of Press Foundation, reads. The letter was signed by the likes of Laura Poitras and Alex Gibney, who were behind recent documentaries on Edward Snowden and cyber-warfare, respectively.

"Encryption features will allow us to continue to tell the most important stories, from some of the most dangerous places in the world," the letter adds.

But judging by various companies' responses, or lack thereof, crypto won't be coming to cameras anytime soon.

"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," a Nikon spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. The spokesperson included another PR-heavy paragraph, saying: "For nearly 100 years, Nikon has provided the world's professionals with superior cameras and NIKKOR lenses. We are committed to innovation and offering products that exceed expectations for image quality, durability and usability."

Olympus provided Motherboard with a generic statement that barely even addressed our questions.

"Thank you for your interest in Olympus. The Directors of Olympus KeyMed have an ongoing commitment to the local community and, subject to the performance of the company, make considerable contributions to a range of charities and organizations which have approached us. In saying this, in view of current global economic crisis, the underlying business conditions over recent months have toughened for Olympus across its product areas and, we have had to carefully review and rationalize our commitments," the statement read.

Canon, Sony and Fuji did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

"The response from camera manufacturers so far has been incredibly disappointing. The overwhelming number of filmmakers and photojournalists who enthusiastically signed onto our letter shows a huge demand for the ability to easily encrypt photographs and footage to protect everyone's safety," Trevor Timm, executive director at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message.

"It's depressing to see these manufacturers barely respond to some of their most important and vulnerable customers. However, there's still time for these companies come out strongly in favor of building encryption into their products, and I look forward to applauding them when they do," he added.

Laura Poitras
Alex Gibney
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