The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the data retention and investigatory powers bill – known as the Drip bill – will not address key privacy concerns raised by the European court of justice when it struck down the current regime in April and should be the subject of wider public debate.
"To me it's difficult to see how the UK can now justify rushing through wide-reaching emergency legislation which may not fully address the concerns raised by the court, at time when there are proceedings ongoing by the UK's own investigative powers tribunal on these very issues," Pillay said in Geneva on Wednesday.
The commissioner made her remarks as she released a UN report laying out the obligations on countries to safeguard the right to privacy in the digital age. The report identifies gaps in the way countries protect the right to privacy with respect to their digital surveillance practices.
Pillay's intervention comes after MPs passed the Drip bill through all its Commons stages in a single day, with only 49 MPs voting against the rush to the statute book. The House of Lords is due to start just two days of proceedings on the legislation on Wednesday afternoon.
Privacy campaigners say that the powers to require internet and phone companies to store personal communications data for 12 months for access by the security services and the police have been widely rejected by courts in the rest of Europe.
So far constitutional courts in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovenia as well as the European court of justice have all rejected blanket data retention as unconstitutional.
The home secretary published new background documents on Tuesday night that show that legislation will be introduced before the general election, abolishing the post of official reviewer of counter-terrorism laws, currently held by David Anderson QC, and replacing it with a US-style privacy and civil liberties board.
Its remit includes ensuring that current terror laws take adequate account of privacy and liberty concerns.
Privacy campaigners immediately questioned why the main framework of surveillance legislation – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000– appeared to be outside its remit. Anderson himself said the devil will be in the detail and speculated whether it would have the same access to secret documentation currently enjoyed by him as the official watchdog.
The Home Office terms of reference make clear that the privacy and liberty board will not be allowed to duplicate the current oversight arrangements including the work of the intelligence and security committee or the oversight commissioners. Nor will it be able to deal with individual cases for people seeking redress.
The former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald, the Liberal Democrat peer, said the creation of the privacy and civil liberties board and the wide-ranging review of surveillance legislation are both powerful wins. He defends the Drip bill, saying it simply restates existing practice and contains a sunset clause that will mean it will need replacing in December 2016 and brings with it surprising and liberal reforms.