Social media websites based in America will set themselves on a collision course with the Government today by refusing to co-operate with demands contained in a major report to hand over private details about suspected terrorists.
David Anderson, who will on Thursday publish a review of the Government’s plans for terrorism legislation, is expected to warn that there are currently “capability gaps” in the ability of Britain’s intelligence services to keep track of jihadists.
One of the main areas of concern is that British spies are unable to monitor communications between potential terrorist suspects on some social media websites.
However, The Telegraph understands that the social media sites, which are based in America, will rebuff the UK Government’s concerns, insisting that they only have to release information if there is an imminent threat to life.
If the security services cannot prove an immediate risk to life, they will then be forced to go through a process which takes months to get the permissions.
Typical requests for information this way – which have to be made by post – can take as long 150 days.
Publication of the Anderson report is likely also to herald the start of a debate about new laws which will give the authorities more powers to spy on Britons and provoke a huge row with civil liberties campaigners who are concerned about what they describe as a “snoopers’ charter”.
The conflict with the websites will come as a major blow to the Government, which condemned the actions of Facebook following an inquiry into the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
Michael Adebowale used the social networking site to express his “intent to murder a soldier in the most graphic and emotive manner” five months before the 2013 Woolwich attack.
David Cameron subsequently told the social media websites that they had a “moral duty” to act because “their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem”.
One social media source said that there have been disputes in the past when a terror suspect is of no immediate threat but is “of interest” to the UK authorities.
The only way to speed up this process would be a new treaty governing exchange of information between the US and UK – as well asa change in the US law governing disclosure.
The source said: “It doesn’t matter who the warrant comes from – in US law the legal standard says ‘if there is an imminent threat to life then companies can disclose information’.”
In April, Brad Smith, a senior lawyer at Microsoft, called for existing legal agreements to be modernised.
He said: “We need an updated set of broadly accepted rules that preserve the rule of law and work effectively across national borders.”
He warned that “new national laws passed to address these issues must respect the sovereignty of other countries”.
He said: “They cannot be a blunt instrument to seek unilateral and unfettered access to information.”
The Conservatives are pushing ahead with the legislation after it was previously blocked by their former Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
The Government has pledged to “address ongoing capability gaps” that are hindering the ability of the security services to fight terrorism and other serious crime.
The security and intelligence agencies are concerned that encryption facilities around many online conversations are now so sophisticated they cannot get through to see what suspects are planning.
Internet companies have been increasingly unwilling to cooperate and breach user privacy in the wake of the mass surveillance claims made in the leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
The Anderson report is also expected to recommend that a judge signs off warrants to intercept the contents of phone calls or emails.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, currently has that role but a change may be seen as a gesture of greater independence for civil rights campaigners.
The report is expected to put in to public the most details of the workings and activities of the intelligence services than ever before.