Germany to launch social network spy program

Germany expects within five years to operate a program that spies in real time on social networks and encrypted Internet traffic outside its borders, according to multiple media reports inside the European nation.

The price tag? $375 million.

The German government confirmed the program’s existence, describing it as an early warning system for cyberattacks. It did not confirm the budget or any operational details.

Germany’s largest daily newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitun, and two major TV outlets, NDR and WDR, reported the news. American tech news site IT World translated the reports.

Germany has been perhaps the most vocal critic of the U.S. surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was particularly irked after claiming the U.S. had spied on her phone. She demanded the U.S. sign a “no-spy” agreement, but talks fell apart through the first half of 2014. In July, Germany declined a U.S. offer to share intelligence information while limiting spying on each other.

Instead, Germany has considered additional laws requiring local businesses to keep certain data within the country's borders.

But the surveillance program in the works, known as the Strategic Technology Initiative (SIT), would expand the country’s own snooping capacity.

A prototype of the program to watch social networks is expected to be up and running next June. It will focus initially on Twitter and blogs, and will be designed to dismiss German language data.

The budget also allocates money to work on decrypting HTTPS, a common encryption technique for Internet traffic.

Popular services like Google and Facebook set HTTPS as a default for all traffic to combat NSA spying.