German spy agency seeks millions to monitor social networks outside Germany

The prototype real time social media monitor will only look at publicly available data though, according to the plans

Germany's foreign intelligence agency reportedly wants to spend €300 million (about US$375 million) in the next five years on technology that would let it spy in real time on social networks outside of Germany, and decrypt and monitor encrypted Internet traffic.

The Federal Intelligence Service (BND) wants the funds for a program called "Strategische Initiative Technik" (SIT, Strategic Technology Initiative), according to a report by German daily the Süddeutsche Zeitung and television stations NDR and WDR.

The report is based on a confidential document in which the BND asked the Confidential Committee of the Bundestag's Budget Committee to approve a sum of €28 million for the program in 2015.

A German government spokesman confirmed the existence of the SIT program on Monday and said that its main goal is to build an early warning system for cyber attacks. He declined however to give further details about either the program or its budget.

It is a remarkable move given the German uproar over the NSA affair and the alleged U.S. spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, which led the German government to demand a "no-spy" agreement from the U.S. Such a deal is unlikely to be made by U.S. president Barack Obama.

The BND, which already spent €6.22 million in preparation for this online surveillance push, also wants to use the money to set up an early warning system for cyber attacks, the report said.

The system for real time social network monitoring is still in the construction phase. But a prototype is expected to be launched next June with the aim of monitoring publicly available data on Twitter and blogs. The program should filter out and discard data in the German language.

The BND also wants to spend €4.5 million to crack and monitor HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypted Internet traffic. By 2020 some of that money may be spent the black market to buy zero day exploits, unpublicized vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. That program, called "Nitidezza", should also provide better protection for government networks, German weekly Der Spiegel said in a separate report on BND's budget requests.

Moreover, a plan to monitor Internet exchanges outside Germany is also in the works. Next year, the agency wants to spend €4.5 million on a program called "Swop" to provide additional hidden access to a non-German exchange, the newspaper report said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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