Web heavyweights have hit out against the Digital Economy Bill, claiming clauses in the legislation could put the UK’s digital future at risk.

In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Peter Mandelson, published yesterday, representatives of eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! call on the government to abandon “measures which risk stifling innovation and damaging the government’s vision for a Digital Britain”.

The measures in question, clause 17 of the Digital Economy Bill, deal with the issue of copyright and, according to the letter, could give “any future secretary of state unprecedented and sweeping powers to amend the Copyright, Design and Patent Act”.

As a result, the secretary of state could introduce “arbitrary measures” according to the four companies, such as increasing the use of user data monitoring even when an individual has not broken the law.

“This clause is so wide that it could put at risk legitimate consumer use of current technology as well as future developments,” the letter said, adding: “Clause 17 creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses and puts at risk the UK’s leading position in a digital Europe.”

The Digital Economy Bill, now on its second reading in the House of Lords, was intended to fulfil the aims of the government’s Digital Britain report published earlier this year.

The report, authored by then-communications minister Lord Carter, was meant to “secure Britain’s place at the forefront of the global digital economy”, according to the government.

While the four companies behind the letter said they support the aims of the report, they believe clause 17 “will hinder, rather than contribute to, the government’s vision” and have urged Whitehall to remove it.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The law must keep pace with technology, so that the Government can act if new ways of seriously infringing copyright develop in the future.

“However business will not wake up one morning to a world in which government has taken extensive digital powers. There are substantial constraints on how the power can be used, with requirements for a consultation and votes in both houses of Parliament before anything can happen. Also the powers can not be used to create or modify a criminal offence.”