More on FAQ #911
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A. If “Verifiably Unaltered Originals” could be helpful to photographers trying to prove that a photo is unaltered, why don’t camera- and device manufacturers make it easy to create VUOs?
Because it is not a simple matter to make a VUO that cannot be hacked.
Both Canon and Nikon offered in the early 2000s a means of encrypting digital images at the time of capture so that the images could later be checked to see whether they had been changed in any way.
Canon’s system was called an “Original Data Security Kit”; Nikon’s system was called “Image Authentication.”
B. What could go wrong?
Both Canon’s and Nikon’s systems were eventually hacked — that is, images that had been altered were “verified” as being unaltered — rendering both of those verification systems unreliable.
Thus even though from digital cameras’ early days a “Verifiably Unaltered Original” looked like a promising solution for proof of non-manipulation, efforts to implement the technology in the pre-smartphone era were unsuccessful.
Part of the failure may have been due to the fact that the relevant cameras accepted interchangeable lenses — thereby significantly reducing the amount of technical data that could be reliably recorded 100 percent of the time — and that those cameras were not connected to the Internet (for uploading of images instantly after capture).
C. A new generation of VUOs?
The sealed design of every smartphone (that is, the same lenses are permanently attached to the camera) coupled with smartphones’ Internet connectivity has given the VUO quest renewed vitality and viability.
Increased worldwide public concern about doctored images has accelerated the urgency of the quest, while advances in “computational” photographic technology since the early 2000s may allow a greater range of data about the scene to be recorded in a Verifiably Unaltered Original.
The most trustworthy VUOs would embed a wide variety of information, including camera / exposure / focal length settings; GPS coordinates; date/time; the roll (horizon) positioning of the camera (yaw and pitch should be evident from the depiction); and focus distances (verified computational data on the distance to various subjects in the scene would make it impossible to make close-up rephotographs of doctored photographs).
D. Stay tuned
There is no 100-percent foolproof solution, and it will be a constant technical challenge to make ever more-difficult-to-hack VUOs.
Furthermore (as this website often points out), “deception” via photographs is often a human issue more than a technical one, so there are limits to what even the best VUO can “prove.”
But if large tech and media companies pursue VUO-related innovations, the landscape in this area could change extensively in the next few years.