Proposals to extend the ability of police and security services to access “real time” communication data need to be brought in after proper consultation, a chief constable said today.
Mick Creedon, who runs Derbyshire Police, said controversial proposals debated this week were about ensuring existing powers used "all the time" by police investigations were preserved as technology improved.
The measures - which reports say would allow access to data including call logs, email addresses and website addresses but not content - have been heavily criticised by civil liberties campaigners and some Government MPs.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday signalled an early retreat for the Government insisting any proposals would only be published in draft form - despite reports the measures would feature in the Queen's Speech on May 9. Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday defended the ideas in the Sun.
And Mr Creedon told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I find some of the reaction quite bizarre. These are draft proposals from the Government, we need to wait and see what they will look like and there will be consultation.
"But the point is the world of policing, investigating serious crime and terrorism, and actually protecting vulnerable people, depends to a certain extent on accessing some things like core data. The safeguards in place are two fold.
"Firstly, we are not talking about accessing the content, it's about who and when and where. And secondly, there are strict safeguards in place to make sure they are only accessed when they should be.
"The world has changed and over the past decade there has been a proliferation of methods - like Twitter, Skype, 3G, 4G, BlackBerry - all new ways of communication. Nearly all organised crime investigations, nearly all terrorist investigations, involve accessing core data."
Urged to point to a case where a life could have been saved, Mr Creedon added: "All the time. Kidnap cases that go on where there could be a threat to life, people who go missing who are highly vulnerable, organised criminals importing tonnes of class A drugs - all these things are stopped by the use of whole domestication of core data.
"There is huge safeguards about how this is accessed. It is not big brother."
And he added: "These proposals are all about making sure UK law enforcement is up to date with technology and also with criminal networks.
"There seems to have been a furore around these proposals. They are going to be developed... and clearly we in the police will contribute.
"The previous proposals by the Labour government were slightly different in terms of a huge 'data dump' - these are about making sure we get access to service providers with the right level of authority. It's putting the onus on the service providers to make sure they maintain the data for a period."
Mr Creedon said there was an identified problem with some providers not currently keeping data which could be crucial to investigations.
Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland said he welcomed the chance for proper consultation to ensure "clear principles" could be protected.
Mr Mulholland is one of 17 Lib Dem MPs to sign a letter criticising the plans.
Speaking on Today, the Leeds North West MP said: "Liberal Democrats believe civil liberties are fundamentally important and I'm delighted to hear Nick Clegg speaking out.
"Of course there is a balance to be struck between allowing intelligence services to investigate terrorism and crime... but there is also a very clear principle: the state should only put people under surveillance when there is a good reason too."
Mr Mulholland said he believed any attempts to look at the data should only be authorised by a judge.
But he added: "With this coming out through a leak, it is not clear what any proposed legislation should actually do.
"To simply say it is extended (existing powers) because of new technology is weasel words - there is a clear principle at stake."
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the Today programme: "The proposal is that so far as internet and things are concerned (there will be) the same safeguards which we have lived with for telephones for some time.
"I used to join all these criticisms but the reason we are revising all this is we are trying to get the balance right.
"The hoo-hah at the moment is based on rather alarming descriptions of what we are supposed to be doing. With communications, at the moment, records of all phone calls are kept and can be accessed.
"You can't listen to the phone call, if you are an intelligence man, but you can get a list of all the phone calls in the last year. If you want to listen to any of it, if you want to snoop, then you've got to get a warrant signed by the Home Secretary.
"Technology has moved on... so what is proposed is the rules nobody was complaining about when it was telephone calls should now be extended to others, with the same safeguards."
Mr Creedon, who is the Acpo (Association of Chief Police Officers) lead for organised crime, added: "With the different data providers, some don't keep all the data... I think they should do."
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "It's welcome that ministers are now addressing the real concerns people have about being spied upon but a whole range of questions remain unanswered.
"We are still discussing proposals for a huge amount of additional monitoring, so the Deputy Prime Minister's assurances of a full and detailed review are extremely welcome.
"It's still far from clear if this scheme is technically possible or if it will make the public any safer."