Werner Herzog, Laura Poitras, and More Filmmakers Call for Encryption in Nikon and Canon Cameras

Sonny hits the photographerCredit: Paramount
More than 150 filmmakers and photographers published an open letter to Nikon and Canon today to request in-camera encryption to protect their images from the moment of capture.

In The Godfather, in order to protect the privacy of the criminals attending a wedding, Sonny rips a photographer's camera out of his hand and breaks it on the ground to destroy the images. Today, police, the government, even just a jealous lover can easily take an SD card in order to do the same.

While encryption is possible with files on a hard drive, or with messaging through apps like signal, the original capture technology is still a hole in the encryption chain.

The today, the Freedom of the Press Foundation published an open letter to camera manufacturers signed by more than 150 filmmakers and photographers, including FPF board member and CITIZENFOUR director Laura Poitras. It bears the signatures of many accomplished filmmakers who have worked under risky conditions, such as Werner Herzog, who filmed in North Korea for Into the Inferno; Matthew Heineman, who documented the Mexican drug cartel in Cartel Land; and Craig Atkinson, whose film Do Not Resist exposes ugly truths about the militarization of American police departments. 

Specifically targeting Nikon and Canon, the letter calls for encryption at the moment of capture; that way, even if your camera is confiscated or your SD card is somehow stolen, the images can't be viewed by anyone who doesn't have access to your encryption key.

For filmmakers especially, this will be a double-edged sword, since encryption comes with a higher processing load. If cameras do have internal encryption enabled, it is likely that it will only be available in lower resolution, lower bandwidth formats. But if you are shooting in a dangerous environment where your footage could be confiscated and potentially lead to ramifications for you or your crew, bumping down from UHD to 1080p could be well worth it.

You can read the full letter below.

Featured image from 'The Godfather'

Your Comment


I find interesting the possibility and need of image encryption, but I think it needs some level of "control". I mean, governments could easily be against these if it means that Police confiscating cameras, for example, to uncover a child pornography plot, is unable to convict those people. There has to be a system for which we don't find ourselves in the same plot as some time ago with Apple.

December 15, 2016 at 12:32AM


Wouldn't it make more sense in this instance for the encryption to take place at the card level? That way, camera processors wouldn't have to go through an overhaul and those using the cameras wouldn't have to purchase specific 'encryption' models that will no doubt have a hefty mark up (and most likely sizeable wait times due to back orders). I could be wrong, as I have virtually zero experience with this matter, but putting pressure on the card makers seems like a more worth while endeavor. Camera companies are large entities that are slow to enact change such as this. I just see the card makers being a little more flexible in this regard.

December 15, 2016 at 8:38AM, Edited December 15, 8:38AM

You voted '+1'.

SD cards do not have a controller on board the card. It is different with SSDs, they have their own controller, and maybe some higher end cards like SxS have those too, but SD cards for sure do not, so they cannot do anything, they are just an array of NAND chips that can be accessed by the controller in a device.
However, most consumer SSDs already encrypt their writes, so it cannot be very expensive to add that capability to the controller.

However to be able to use the encryption in a meaningful way, the connected hardware - in case of the SSD the pc and operating system - have to support using the built-in encryption. If you just write normally to an encrypted SSD, the data will be encrypted on the chips, but the controller will just transparently decrypt it whenever it is asked to read. So there is a need for hardware support still, even in the case of a self-encrypting drive like an ssd.

Long story short, an extra hardware circuit that encrypts data in 256bit aes in real time is not too expensive these days. SSD manufacturers probably add them to all their products so their competitors cannot analyze the way their controllers work, these encryption circuits cannot cost more than a few bucks.
However, that will be too expensive still for consumer models.

December 16, 2016 at 4:30PM, Edited December 16, 4:33PM