Telecoms firms have accused the Government of acting like the East German Stasi over plans to force them to store the details of every phone call for at least a year.
Under the proposals, the details of every email sent and website visited will also be recorded to help the police and security services fight crime and terrorism.
But mobile phone companies have attacked the plans as a massive assault on privacy and warned it could be the first step towards a centralised ‘Big Brother’ database.
They have also told the Home Office that the scheme is deeply flawed.
The criticism of Britain’s growing ‘surveillance culture’ was made in a series of responses to an official consultation on the plans, which have been obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
T-Mobile said in its submission that it was a ‘particularly sensitive’ time as many people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the protests that led to the collapse of ‘surveillance states in Eastern Europe’.
Martin Hopkins, head of data protection and disclosure, said: ‘It would be extremely ironic if we at T-Mobile (UK) Ltd had to acquire the surveillance functionality envisaged by the Consultation Document at the same time that our parent company, headquartered in Germany, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the demise of the equivalent systems established by the Stasi in the federal states of the former East Germany.’
Equally trenchant was the response from Hutchinson 3G Uk Ltd, which read: ‘We take seriously the responsibility of safeguarding our customers’ information and data, and are unconvinced of the safeguards that the Government might make to protect against loss.’
The firm also said it had ‘substantial concerns’ over claims that public authorities would only be able to access data on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. It is understood hundreds of public bodies and quangos may also be able to obtain information from the system.
‘It is our belief the safeguards listed in this consultation are incomplete and do not extend far enough,’ it added.
Orange and Vodafone were also highly critical, with a spokesman for Orange saying: ‘The proposals are clearly not about “maintaining” capabilities but rather about “enhancing” existing capabilities.
‘Any debate should address what many will see as a worrying extension of the so-called “surveillance culture”.’
Since October 2007, telecoms companies have been obliged to keep records for a year. Under the new legislation, however, they will also be required to organise it better – for example, by grouping calls made by the same person.
Internet service providers have been required to hold records on emails and website visits since April.
Police and security services can already obtain such information if they are given permission by the courts.
The public will reimburse internet service providers and telecoms companies for the costs associated with storing the billions of records.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The police and security services need to be able to use communication data in the fight against crime and terrorism. Communications data forms an important element of prosecution evidence in 95 per cent of the serious crime cases.
‘Access to communications data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is subject to strict safeguards around how, when and by whom data is obtained.’
The activities of the Stasi, the former East Germany’s secret police, were memorably depicted in the Oscar-winning film The Lives Of Others, starring Ulrich Mühe. At the regime’s height, there were 200,000 agents and informers in a population of only 16million.