Germany’s major telecoms provider is negotiating with other telecoms companies to join forces to protect local Internet from foreign influences.
The initiative, introduced after revelations had been made that a mobile phone of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had been bugged by US intelligence services, wants to have all German Internet traffic handled by local companies, with German Telecom serving as a custodian.
According to available information, the group is now negotiating connection agreements with three operators to enable national routing.
"As long as sender and receiver are in the Schengen area or in Germany, traffic should no longer be routed through other countries," said Thomas Kremer, German Telecom’s executive for data privacy and legal affairs.
Telefonica Germany and Vodafone have both confirmed conducting early discussions about the scheme.
However, the project has been criticised by some, pointing to the fact that not only can routing traffic through Germany at times be more expensive than using foreign paths; it could also limit Internet freedom
Apart from that, the scheme would not work if Germans were using foreign websites and services like Facebook or Google.
Internet traffic control is more commonly seen in countries such as China and Iran where governments seek to limit the content their people can access by erecting firewalls and blocking Facebook and Twitter.
"It is internationally without precedent that the Internet traffic of a developed country bypasses the servers of another country," said Torsten Gerpott, a professor of business and telecoms at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
"The push of German Telecom is laudable, but it's also a public relations move."
German Telecom - 32 per cent owned by the German government, has received backing for the project from the telecoms regulator. According to current planst, the customers would be given a choice between the German-only and the open Internet, with the local version guaranteeing data protection.
In August, the company also launched a service dubbed "E-mail made in Germany" that encrypts email and sends traffic exclusively through its domestic servers.
More than 90 per cent of Germany’s Internet traffic already stays within the country’s borders.
However, while programming routers and switches to direct traffic along certain paths is rather easy, avoiding using large data centres located across the globe could present a challenge.
Web companies often rely on a few large data centres to power their entire operation, choosing locations according to availability of cheap power, cool climates, and high-speed broadband networks.
A chat between two Facebook users in Germany could thus be transferred through various Facebook’s data centres in the USA or Scandinavia, making the data vulnerable to eavesdropping.
Similarly, emails sent by Google's Gmail between two German residents would probably be routed through one of the company's three data centres in Finland, Belgium and Ireland.
To get control over this traffic, Germany would have to demand local hosting of websites, a drastic move according to experts that has not yet been pushed by German leaders. German Telecom declined to say whether it would lobby for such an approach.