The government's plans to intercept everyone in the UK's phone, text, email and web-surfing records have drawn fresh criticism from the Conservatives' own back benches.
David Davis, the Tory back-bencher, told the BBC on Monday that the government was yet to justify its proposed new law, which may make its way into the Queen's Speech next month.
The law would give GCHQ unprecedented and real-time access to everyone's communications records, in a bid to fight crime and terrorism. The proposals apparently cover the details of who contacted who and at what time, rather than the contents of the communications.
The proposals have been known about since December, when blogger James Firth revealed them. They were reported on again in February by The Telegraph, although the latest surge of interest stems from a Sunday Times report yesterday.
"[The government has not] explained precisely why it is they intend to eavesdrop on all of us without going to a magistrate for a warrant," Davis said. "This is not focusing on terrorists: it's about everyone's emails, phone messages, texts and web access."
If the authorities have specific concerns about an individual, Davis pointed out, it is "easy to get that approval [to request communications data from ISPs or phone companies] from a magistrate in the middle of the night".
"They don't need this law to protect us," Davis added. "This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers, and frankly they shouldn't have that power."
This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers.– David Davis, MP
The government has not actually announced its proposals yet, although the repeated leaks and anonymous briefings suggest they are real.
The proposals are very similar to those contained in the Labour government's Intercept Modernisation Programme, against which both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats argued.
Both parties campaigned for the general election claiming they would ditch Labour's plans, which they indeed did. Their post-election coalition manifesto even went to far as to state: "We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason."
However, the plans were apparently revived soon afterwards as part of the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP).
However, EU law expressly forbids general monitoring of people's communications — only targeted monitoring is allowed.
In a clause that has more commonly been invoked in the context of copyright enforcement limitations, Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive of 2000 clearly states that member states "shall not impose a general obligation on [communications] providers […] to monitor the information which they transmit or store, nor a general obligation actively to seek facts or circumstances indicating illegal activity".
ZDNet UK has asked the Home Office how the as-yet-undetailed proposals will get round this element of EU law, but was told only that the government "will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the government's approach to civil liberties".