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Filmmakers and journalists ask camera companies to embrace encryption

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Hard drives can be encrypted, so why not cameras and the files they create?

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Nikon D5 and D500 photos

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is asking major companies like Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm to build encryption features into their products in a new open letter published today. The letter was signed by over 150 filmmakers and photojournalists, including Citizenfour director Laura Poitras.

Encryption has become an increasingly prominent (and hotly debated) topic in the tech world over the last few years, especially with respect to messaging apps and mobile phones in general. But while encryption has become standard in those parts of our lives, camera and memory card companies are well behind that curve, the FPF argues.

Poitras, who is on the board of directors for the FPF, somewhat famously had to destroy some of the SD cards she used when filming Edward Snowden for her Citizenfour documentary. While there are encrypted hard drives and even USB sticks, cameras (and the memory cards they use) don’t have built-in file protection. That means a journalist or filmmaker’s work is in jeopardy if those things get confiscated at any point in the time between shooting and storing those files.

“We work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often attempting to uncover wrongdoing in the interests of justice,” the letter reads. “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.

Nikon has issued a (rather boilerplate) statement in response to the letter:

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. 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.

Fujifilm has now also responded, saying “Fujifilm continually works to improve all aspects of its products, and always welcomes feedback from photographers based on their experience.”

Olympus has now reached out to The Verge as well. “Olympus is aware of the efforts of the 'Freedom of the Press Foundation' with respect to the request for implementation of encryption technology for photographic and video products,” the company says. “We intend to study the matter more closely in order to make an informed decision.”

We’ve reached out to the rest of these companies and will update this story when they respond. In the meantime, here’s the full letter:

Update December 14th, 11:19AM ET: Added statement from Nikon.

Update December 21st, 12:21PM ET: Added statement from Fujifilm and Olympus.