Sir David Omand, the former spy chief, has called for clear guidelines to be introduced within the law, which will allow security services and police to intercept social media, whilst avoiding the “chilling effect” of state surveillance.

The former Whitehall intelligence chief has suggested that the existing statue governing communications intercepts and state surveillance is out of date; and within a report entitled #intelligence – which has been co-authored by himself and published by Demos – he has warned that the growth in social media has given criminals a “secret space”.

He claims that existing laws regulating interception of communications by security agencies and the police needs to be overhauled to meet the new challenges and opportunities presented by social media.

Within the report, Sir Omand says: “Democratic legitimacy demands that, where new methods of intelligence gathering and use are to be introduced, they should be on a firm legal basis and rest on parliamentary and public understanding of what is involved, even if the operational details of the sources and methods used must sometimes remain secret.”

The report claims that there is a pressing need to distinguish between information obtained through open sources and information that can only be gathered by eavesdropping, adding: “moreover, new and emerging technology potentially allows more invisible and widespread intrusive surveillance than ever before.”