Whispers of discontent: Rebellion builds against snoopers' charter

By Ian Dunt

Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs were growing more vocal in their criticism of government plans to expand snooping powers today.

The plans have not been fully outlined, but they would expand government access to email and phone records to social media sites and possibly put them on a real-time basis, making Britain the most spied-on nation on earth.

Several Liberal Democrat MPs are understood to have contacted Nick Clegg's office to ask questions about the proposal, while civil liberties campaigners in parliament started to organise their opposition to the plans.

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert said he had spoken to home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz and agreed to call in home secretary Theresa May to give evidence.

"We didn’t scrap ID cards to back creeping surveillance by other means. The state mustn’t be able to trace citizens at will," Mr Huppert said.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Dominic Raab publicised a freedom of information request he had made showing deep concerns from Information Commissioner’s Office when the plans were originally raised in 2010.

"This is a stark warning. Far from improving our security, these flawed plans to privatise Big Brother surveillance will subject every citizen to intrusive monitoring, and expose us to the risk of massive fraud on an unprecedented scale," the Tory MP said.

Both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives opposed very similar measures when they were in opposition, but even if the government can convince them not to rebel it will have to face down the Lords, who regularly rejected similar measures during the New Labour era.

"I am sure that peers of all parties and none will be scrutinising this bill at least as carefully as the security services want to scrutinise the ordinary citizen," Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott told the Guardian.

"We grew battle-hardened in the Blair years to accusations that we are soft on terrorism."

Some sources estimate the plans will cost up to £2 billion in its first year alone, as the government funds record keeping by internet service providers for which there is no business case. Annual running costs would be at least £200 million a year at the prices estimated in 2009.

EU rules already mean that details of users web access, email and telephone records are kept for 12 months by internet service providers, although this does not extend to content.

The new proposals would offer real time access and expand that surveillance to communication on social media sites like Skype and Facebook.

Full details have not yet been released but technology experts say the only feasible way of completing the task would involve a blanket approach to the information going through internet service providers.

If true, it would mean that all online activity is potentially being intercepted by the government and raise serious questions about privacy.

Technology firms have also warned that if they are forced to apply the plans, it will be harder for them to turn down similar requests from authoritarian regimes overseas.