The information watchdog is calling for new powers to carry out unannounced spot inspections on firms and public bodies to ensure personal data on their computer records is being properly held.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said he needs the power to conduct audits on data controllers to check that they are compliant with the Data Protection Act.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said the health service and local authorities should be covered as well as large organisations.

"I want to have the power to go in and audit data controllers without having to knock on the door and say 'Please'," he said.

"It is the General de Gaulle principle that uncertainty is an important part of deterrence - the Information Commissioner might come calling.

"I think that we ought to be able to carry out audits - not just asking nicely and 'Please can we come in?' but to have a right to do that.

"There are some who say 'We don't have to have you in' and there's nothing we can do at the moment so that's an important power."