Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Camera manufacturers asked for in-camera image/video encryption

Aegis Secure Key 3.0 courtesy of AegisLast week, over 150 filmmakers and photojournalists called on the world's major camera manufacturers to build-in encryption into their still and video cameras to help protect those who use them. They did it in an open letter published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Documentary filmmakers and photojournalists often work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. They risk their lives to get images and video footage of newsworthy events to inform the general public.

Filmmakers and photojournalists are regularly threatened by border security guards, local police, military personnel, intelligence agents, private police forces, terrorists, and criminals when attempting to safely transport their images and videos for editing and publishing.

This isn't just a “third-world” problem. This isn't just a problem in countries run by dictators or authoritarian governments. This isn't just a problem in “bad” neighborhoods. This is a problem found in virtually every country in the world, even in western Europe and the United States.

As I've reported in the past, I've been threatened with arrest and confiscation of my camera and images right here in the U.S., by out-of-control security personnel. Every day, U.S. citizens and visitors entering the country are subject to having their computers and camera gear examined and confiscated, and their contents copied and potentially erased by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) without “probable cause” or even “reasonable suspicion.”

Just last November, as reported in The Washington Post, award-winning Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou was on assignment for the CBC. He was on his way to cover the Standing Rock protests as part of a project about health care for indigenous people in North America. When he got to the U.S. border, he was detained by CBP agents and interrogated for over 6 hours. Ou's journals were photocopied and some of his documents were confiscated.

According to Ou, during his interrogation, CBP officers requested that he unlock his mobile phones so they could search them. He refused, telling them he had an ethical obligation to protect his reporting sources. The CBP officers confiscated the cell phones. Ou said when the phones were returned a few hours later, it was clear that their SIM cards had been tampered with.

The threats to photojournalists' and videographers' work, safety and even their lives can be exacerbated when their cameras can be confiscated, commandeered or stolen while left unprotected by the lack of camera security features that could otherwise shield their images and videos from “prying eyes.”

In general, being able to encrypt images and video directly in the camera would be a positive feature, however, I think it's necessary to understand that while it would be positive, there are circumstances in which it could be a serious negative, putting filmmakers and photojournalists into more danger than ever.

A terrorist, criminal, or border guard could become enraged if they couldn't see or delete images or footage on a confiscated still or video camera. That rage could be taken out on the photojournalist or videographer. Moreover, while encryption would stop viewing or misuse of the images or video, it wouldn't stop their confiscation or destruction. Memory cards can be stolen or destroyed along with cameras.

There is no doubt that while in-camera encryption would be a welcome tool, it's no panacea, as those who signed the open letter are aware.

A major problem with any encryption is that encrypted files can be decrypted with a key. In particularly hostile areas of the world a terrorist or a secret police force would have no reluctance to use any method to convince a filmmaker or photojournalist to give up the key. Even so, built-in encryption should be added to cameras to be used as desired.

Filmmakers and photojournalists need to and do take advantage of other tools as well.

As a travel photographer I travel extensively across the globe. While it's rare that I'm traveling in hostile areas, I do have to deal with local police, security officers, customs and border agents. The U.S., for example, has never halted its random program of confiscation of electronic devices and other materials by CBP from citizens and visitors as they enter the country.

As a result, I upload all my images and videos to encrypted portable hard drives, and upload my important images and videos to encrypted file folders on my cloud drive. I normally use a Wi-Fi Internet connection using VPN, “virtual private networking,” to upload files. Whenever we're in areas without typical access, a satellite phone can provide access though it will be slow most of the time.

While these procedures don't help a filmmaker or photojournalist who's accosted while working or before a transfer to safer storage can occur, most of the time they will shield their work and prevent its theft.

There's no easy solution to the problems of documentary filmmakers, photojournalists and travel photographers, but in-camera encryption, transfer of still images and video to encrypted drives and encrypted cloud storage are extremely helpful tools. Hopefully camera manufacturers will support the request for in-camera encryption soon.


Jimmy-Des Moines said...

Great analysis. You laid out the issues well. Personally I don't think the in-camera encryption will be nearly as useful as many photojournalist believe.

Steve-LA said...

I've got to think that photojournalists would be better off with a built-in cellular radio or satellite radio system in their camera or attached to it. I think encryption would be as dangerous as helpful and if the memory card fails the image would likely be unrecoverable.

Post a Comment