The government faces a tough battle to get its controversial Communications Bill passed – at least in its current format – after coalition partners and industry groups spoke out against the snooping proposals.
The draft Bill contained proposals including the deployment of black boxes at internet service providers to routinely monitor all internet activity, which are unacceptable, said Liberal Democrat MP, Julian Huppert.
“We oppose giving Ministers or anyone else broad disproportionate powers to snoop on the public. We must hugely tighten the controls on how communications data that has been collected can be accessed,” he wrote on a Liberal blog.
“I don’t think we should pass broad laws on a promise from government that they will never abuse it. This absolutely must be changed – it is unacceptable as it currently stands.”
Unusually, the draft Bill will be scrutinised by a special select committee, which will examine ways to improve the proposals.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has confirmed it will advise that committee on the data protection implications of the proposals.
It has also already called for additional powers and funding to ensure it can meet the added burden the Bill would impose.
“If the ICO is to be in a position to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act, in respect of security of retained personal information and its destruction after 12 months, [it] will need appropriately enhanced powers and the necessary additional resources,” it said.
It will also be examined by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) – a cross-party group of MPs.
“Given the importance of communications data to the work undertaken by the intelligence agencies, the ISC has begun its own investigation into this area,” said the ISC chairman Malcolm Rifkind.
"We will take evidence and examine the rationale behind the proposals and how rigorous the safeguards are to ensure the privacy of individuals."
Home secretary Theresa May argued that the Bill introduced measures necessary to combat modern crime.
“Communications data saves lives. It is a vital tool for the police to catch criminals and to protect children. If we stand by as technology changes we will leave police officers fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs,” she said.
However privacy activists were unconvinced and hit back at the government.
“This is exactly what we expected: black boxes to intercept people's traffic data, and poorly supervised police powers to get access to it,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.
"Bluntly, these are as dangerous as we expected, and represent unprecedented surveillance powers in the democratic world.”
The draft Bill was also criticised by the Internet Service Provider's Association for several reasons.
“ISPA has concerns about the new powers to require network operators to capture and retain third party communications data. These concerns include the scope and proportionality, privacy and data protection implications and the technical feasibility,” it said in a statement.