By politics.co.uk staff
Social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace will be the latest method of communication targeted for government surveillance.
The revelation came in a Commons committee session with Home Office minister Vernon Coaker, who mentioned adding the sites to an EU directive designed to monitor communications.
It is now clear the government wishes to add the sites to pre-existing plans to put all Britons' communications on a central database, including emails, text messages and phone calls.
"It is absolutely right to point out the difficulty of ensuring that we maintain a capability and a capacity to deal with crime and issues of national security, and where that butts up against issues of privacy," Mr Coaker said.
There was instant opposition to the plan, with Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake saying: "This is yet more evidence of this government's obsession with hoarding vast amounts of people's personal data.
"We need complete clarity from the government over what data they will retain and how it will be kept secure."
Minister say they do not wish to keep hold of the contents of messages, but instead intend to keep a log of who is talking to who.
Nevertheless, the tens of millions of users of social networking sites are bound to react angrily to the proposal. Changes imposed by Facebook itself frequently meet concerted protest online.
Facebook's chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly, described the proposal as "overkill".
A Home Office spokesman said it would soon be consulting "to ensure that we keep up with technological advances".
The spokesman added: "The government has no interest in the content of people's social network sites and this is not going to be part of our upcoming consultation.
"We have been clear that the communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change, so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence."