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Public awareness of freedom of information is high - but some groups may be lagging behind, warns Commissioner

Research published today by the Scottish Information Commissioner has revealed that public awareness of freedom of information (FOI) remains high, with 74% of those surveyed reporting that they were aware of the law. However, the report also indicated that awareness may be lower within particular groups, including young people, the elderly and people with disabilities.

The research, which was carried out by Progressive Scottish Opinion as the fifth wave of the Commissioner annual public awareness survey, also found that:

  • 64% of respondents believed that Scottish public authorities were becoming more open and accountable as a result of FOI;
  • 69% felt that more information was available from public authorities than ever before;
  • 69% felt that Scottish public authorities are more open and accountable than their equivalents in the rest of the UK;
  • 57% nevertheless believed that public authorities would find a way round their FOI responsibilities if they didn't want to provide information.

The study also revealed that the majority of respondents (73%) who reported having made an FOI request to a public authority received all of the information they had asked for.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner said:

"The findings are heartening and suggest that awareness of the right to information is becoming embedded in the public consciousness. However I am concerned that awareness may be lower within those groups who may well have most cause to use freedom of information rights such as young people, the elderly and those with disabilities.

"Scotland's FOI rights are available to all, and it is important that every sector of society - and particularly the most vulnerable - can exercise them. Access to information can be a powerful tool in helping to change an individual's circumstances. We need to ensure that all groups in society are fully aware of their rights."

Ends

For further information contact Paul Mutch or Sue Gemmell on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752

Notes to Editors:

The Research Report:

The research was conducted on behalf of the Commissioner by Progressive Scottish Opinion. A representative sample 1012 respondents were interviewed by telephone between 16 and 23 October 2007.

Other key findings of the research included:

  • 62% of the population agreed that the FOI Act was useful to them.
  • FOI awareness levels remained high, despite the fact that there has been no direct advertising of FOI to the public since 2005. The most common sources of awareness of FOI were reported to be newspaper editorials (31%) and TV programmes (30%).
  • There was a comparatively low level of awareness of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs), with 19% of the population stating that they were aware of the EIRs.The EIRs are the sister legislation to the FOI Act, and govern access to environmental information.
  • Respondents who were aware of the FOI Act were more likely to:
    • understand they have rights to access information
    • have made requests in the past
    • be aware of the Scottish Information Commissioner
  • 50% of 18-24 year olds and 54% of over 65s stated they were definitely aware of FOISA, compared with 62% of 24-44 year olds and 71% of 45-64 year olds.
  • There remains some confusion amongst respondents between the right to general information under the FOI legislation, and the right to their own personal information under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The full research report and the accompanying datasets are available below:

Public Awareness Research Report 2007 (PDF - 298kb)

 

Public Awarenss Research 2007 Datasets (PDF - 791kb - Please note - this is a large file and may take some time to download).

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 provides a statutory right of access to all information held by Scottish public authorities. This right came into effect on 1 January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by the Act. They include the Scottish Parliament and Government, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • Information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in the Act.
  • If an individual believes an authority is wrong to withhold information, they ultimately have a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who can require release.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion the Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  • His duties and powers are to ensure that people get the information from Scottish public authorities to which they are entitled.
  • His role actively promotes and enforces compliance with the freedom of information legislation.
  • Since 2005, the Commissioner has issued over 500 formal decisions under the FOI Act.

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