A Camera That Encrypts Images with GPG

Alasdair Allan
4 min readAug 13, 2017

Last year over 150 filmmakers and journalists called on the big camera manufacturers to sell encrypted cameras. While your phone might come with encryption out of the box, high end cameras used by professional photojournalists and film makers do not. That leaves them open to having their cameras seized, and the images and video examined by law-enforcement and security forces.

Depending on where they are—and what they’re reporting on—the contents of those images and video could mean their own imprisonment, along with the imprisonment, torture, or even death, of their sources.

While there are problems with adding full disk encryption to the current generation of DSLR cameras, not least of which is the problem of pass phrases and encryption key management, the hardware underneath should be more than capable of handling the actual encryption.

Which is why at least one person has gotten bored waiting, and gone ahead and built his own based around the Raspberry Pi and its Camera Module.

The Raspberry Pi 3 with camera mounted in a case from Adafruit. (📷: Aaron Waychoff)

“I’ve made a proof-of-concept encrypting digital camera based on the open source, widely adoped GnuPG. This project uses public key encryption to encrypt every photo the camera takes before writing the encrypted version to memory. Of particular note, there are absolutely no UI changes over what an ordinary point-and-shoot camera provides. No extra keyboards or touch screens are needed as no passwords need be entered.” — Aaron Waychoff

While its creator Aaron Waychoff, creator of the Falsom Upside-Down ⊥ “Resist” campaign, is at pains to emphasis that the camera is entirely “proof of concept,” and the security hasn’t been audited, and that it wasn’t created with the intention of being used in the field. It seems like a solid starting place to build such a camera.

“The camera never writes an image to storage without first encrypting it. There is nothing for other parties to recover from the media apart from the strongly encrypted images and the public key — which cannot be used to decrypt the images stored. This does bring up the one tradeoff… there is no way to view any of the images taken on camera.” — Aaron Waychoff

Although personally I’d like to I’d like to see a more sophisticated video camera setup — like the one built for the Tinkernut YouTube live streaming camera — given the ability to provide real-time encrypted local storage of the live streamed video.

There’s also the issue of lens, because there is a reason why most photojournalists travel with a bag full of expensive lens. No matter how good the quality of the CCD or CMOS imager itself, you also need a good quality lens in front of it to get the high resolution images and video we’re used to seeing.

3D-printed adaptor for the Raspberry Pi camera to attach to Canon EF lens. (📷: James Mitchell)

One interesting thing you might not have known about the Raspberry Pi Camera Module is that you can remove the plastic lens and expose the module’s sensor directly to the the light falling on it—and it was a capability used a couple of times by the projects sent to the International Space Station to be used with the AstroPi.

However if you do remove the lens that means you can need to use an external lens to replace it, and so long as you have access to a 3D printer, you can put together a lens adaptor for the Raspberry Pi camera module that will let you use lens intended for professional DSLR cameras with the Raspberry Pi camera module.

Taking a step back, if we mix all three of these projects together, we could very well end up with something that could be of use to a journalist or film maker. As recent events have proven journalists need solid dependable methods to stream video and images out of potentially dangerous situations, while keeping themselves safe.

If you want to build your own lens adaptors you can download the STL files for the lens adaptor from Thingiverse. While if you’re interested to learn more about encrypted camera, a brief walk through of how to put together your own encrypted camera—along with the creator’s arguments about why we shouldn’t have to wait for camera encryption—should point you in the right direction to get started building your own.

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