Emergency powers to ensure police and security services can continue to access phone and internet records are being rushed through Parliament.
Prime Minister David Cameron has secured the backing of all three main parties for the highly unusual move.
He said urgent action was needed to protect the public from “criminals and terrorists” after the European Court of Justice struck down existing powers.
But civil liberties campaigners have warned it will invade people’s privacy.
Mr Cameron defended the move in a joint news conference with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, saying it was about maintaining existing capabilities – not introducing new snooping laws.
“We face real and credible threats to our security from serious and organised crime, from the activity of paedophiles, from the collapse of Syria, the growth of Isis in Iraq and al Shabab in East Africa.
“I am simply not prepared to be a prime minister who has to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it.”
He added: “I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament.
“This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.”
Mr Cameron there would also be new moves to “increase transparency and oversight”, including:
- The creation of a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to scrutinise the impact of the law on privacy and civil liberties
- Annual government transparency reports on how these powers are used
- The appointment of a senior former diplomat to lead discussions with the US government and internet firms to establish a new international agreement for sharing data between legal jurisdictions
- A restriction on the number of public bodies, including Royal Mail, able to ask for communications data under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)
- Termination clause ensuring these powers expire at the end of 2016
- A wider review of the powers needed by government during the next parliament
Mr Cameron stressed that the data being retained does not include the content of messages and phone calls – just when and who the companies’ customers called, texted and emailed.
But the emergency Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill would also “clarify” the law on bugging of suspects’ phones by the police and security services, when the home secretary issues a warrant, after concerns service providers were turning down requests.
“Some companies are already saying they can no longer work with us unless UK law is clarified immediately,” said Mr Cameron.
“Sometimes in the dangerous world in which we live we need our security services to listen to someone’s phone and read their emails to identify and disrupt a terrorist plot.”