The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Edward Snowden thinks Amazon is “morally irresponsible.”

(Credit: The Guardian)

Edward Snowden on Friday evening called on, one of the world’s largest retailers, to provide routine encryption for its customers to prevent governments from snooping on the reading habits of their citizens.

Snowden, appearing by video link at a surveillance symposium at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, called Amazon’s practice of allowing customers to browse for books and other goods without encryption “morally irresponsible.”

Many popular online services, such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo, embarked on massive new encryption initiatives after Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, released troves of documents last year detailing how the NSA and its overseas allies collected massive amounts of personal data on people worldwide.

Amazon, whose founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, encrypts transactions as customers enter their credit card information and other purchase details. But searches for products occur in what experts call “plain text,” meaning governments and others with access to Internet traffic can monitor those searches. That includes Internet providers, employers when people use computers at work, or even coffee shops and hotels hosting wifi networks.

Snowden offered the example of somebody looking for “1984,” George Orwell’s novel about living within an all-seeing surveillance state, or browsing for books on political activism.

“Wherever you’re at, wherever that jurisdiction is, they can see what books you’re looking at,” Snowden said on a giant video screen at the Cato Institute’s headquarters in downtown Washington. “This is morally irresponsible, and as a business it’s problematic to allow this to continue when we know for a fact that they have the capability to provide for secure communications because as soon as you go to purchase that book, as soon as money’s involved, they turn it over to encryption.”

He added, “Let’s encrypt your browsing habits. Let’s encrypt the world’s library.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.​