Information about all landline and mobile phone calls made in the UK must be logged and stored for a year under new laws.Data about calls made and received will also be available to 652 public bodies, including the police and councils.
The Home Office said the content of calls and texts would not be read and insisted the move was vital to tackle serious crime and terrorism.
But critics said it was another example of Britain’s “surveillance society”.
The new law, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, was signed off by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in July.
It requires phone companies to log data on every call or text made to and from every phone in Britain.
Since 2004, companies have voluntarily provided data, where available, if it was requested, but now they will required by law to retain it for a year.
Minister for Security and Counter-terrorism Tony McNulty told BBC Radio 4 that the data could provide three levels of information, the simplest being about the phone’s owner.
“Say some old lady has got difficulties with someone who’s repaired the gas in her house and has a mobile phone for somebody who’s clearly dodgy,” Mr McNulty said.
“The local authorities can just get the subscriber information next to that number.
“The second level of data is not simply the subscriber, but also the calls made by that phone.
“And the third level which is purely for the security forces, police, etc, is not just the subscriber information and the calls made, but also the calls coming in and location data – where the calls are made from.”
A person’s location can be pinpointed to within a few feet by identifying the mobile phone mast used to transmit their call.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said people were more concerned than ever about their personal privacy, especially how many bodies had access to their phone records.
“There are actually a very broad range of purposes for which this information about who we’ve been phoning and when can be revealed,” Ms Chakrabarti said.
“It includes, for example, the Gaming Board, the Food Standards Authority and every district and county council in the country.”
She said requests for information would not be limited to those concerning serious crime and national security.
“We’re talking about a profile that can be built of your personal relationships on the basis of who you’ve been speaking to and when.”
Mr McNulty said local councils would only have access to data on “a legitimate and proportional basis”.
“(To say) that all of a sudden anyone and everyone’s information is available, that all these authorities somehow have the right to go fishing and snooping, simply isn’t the case,” he added.
Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Once again this government has been caught red-handed creating new surveillance state powers with no meaningful public or parliamentary debate.
The Home Office said the plans had been through a public consultation and said a senior police officer would have to approve any request for phone data.
Councils would only be able to use the powers to “prevent and detect crime – not for the collection of taxes”, the spokesman added.
The new law brings Britain in line with an EU directive on the retention of phone data.