The Home Office will create a database to store the details of every phone call made, every email sent and every web page visited by British citizens in the previous year under plans currently under discussion.
The Government wants to create the system to fight terrorism and crime. The police and security services believe it will make it easier to access important data as communications become more complex.
Telecoms firms and internet service providers (ISPs) have already been approached by the Home Office, which would be given customer records if the plans were realised.
The security services and police would then be able to access records for any individual over the previous 12 months by gaining permission through the courts.
The plans will raise concern from data protection and civil liberty campaigners and fuel objections to the perceived rise of a “Big Brother” state. There will be worries about the Home Office’s ability to safeguard the data from loss or theft, after recent incidents such as when the child benefit information of every family in Britain with a child under 16 were mislaid.
There will also be doubts about its capacity to manage such a large volume of information. About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated three billion emails are sent every day.
Since last October, telecoms companies have been required to keep records of phone calls and text messages for 12 months.
The plans are being considered for inclusion in the draft Communications Bill to be published later this year. They are at an early stage and have yet to be passed to ministers.
A Home Office spokesman said the move was needed to reflect changes in communication that would “increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data and use it to protect the public”.