Rosa Prince – Telegraph.co.uk October 15, 2008
The move comes after the police and the security services warned that criminals were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology to avoid detection.
Ministers were already planning a massive "Big Brother" database to log data contained in emails and phone calls but have decided to go even further in view of the current threat level.
The original proposal, which was this week criticised by Lord Carlisle, the independent reviewer of anti-terror laws, had been due to be put before MPs in the Communications Data Bill next month.
However, in a speech, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, announced that she was delaying the Bill in order to expand the extent of surveillance powers open to the security services, while consulting further on the best way to win public support for the plan.
The delay marks the third Government U-turn in as many days over its anti-terror legislation, following the abandonment of plans to detain suspects for up to 42 days and secret inquests for juries.
In the speech to the IPPR think tank, Miss Smith said communications data of the sort which helped convict Soham killer Ian Huntley and the 21/7 bombers was not at present being routinely stored, and needed to be if terrorists and serious criminals were to be prevented from striking.
The plan would not include recording the contents of people's messages and appropriate safeguards would be put in place, but Miss Smith said it was "vital" to maintain Britain's capacity to combat terrorism.
She added: "There are no plans for an enormous database which will contain the content of your emails, the texts that you send or the chats you have on the phone or online.
"Nor are we going to give local authorities the power to trawl through the database in the interests of investigating lower level criminality under the spurious cover of counter-terrorist legislation."
Lord Carlile has described the "raw idea" of the database as "awful".
But Miss Smith said that a more efficient means of storing data such as the timing and location of phone calls made by terror suspects would avoid more wide-scale surveillance of the public.
She added: "The consultation will begin in the New Year and I want this to be combined with a well-informed debate characterised by openness, rather than mere opinion, by reason and reasonableness.
"In this, as in the other work we do, my aim is to achieve a consensus and I hope that others will approach the serious issues posed for our national security capabilities in the same spirit.”
Last updated 17/10/2008