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Freedom of Information - is there now greater awareness of the new rights?

A survey of public awareness was carried out during October 2005 and the results are reported below.

Third survey of public awareness of freedom of information rights

Public awareness of the rights provided under Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland is rising, and people are more likely to use its powers than at any time since its introduction nearly a year ago.

A new survey undertaken on behalf of the Scottish Information Commissioner found that people know more about the role of the Commissioner, the rights afforded by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, and are more likely to request information from Scottish public authorities.

It confirmed that public awareness of both the Act and the Commissioner?s role have continued to increase significantly during the year to October. Almost 60 per cent of people had definitely heard of the Act while 20 per cent definitely had, or thought they had, heard of the Commissioner.

However, the survey ? the third of its kind since August 2004 ? also reports a decline in opinion that the authorities are becoming more open and accountable as a result of the Act. The number of people who ?agreed strongly? with that proposition fell from 47 to 34 per cent between April and October this year.

The proportion of respondents to the survey carried out by Scottish Opinion who had made a written request for information held by a public authority has risen from 4 to 8 per cent. The likelihood of using the legislation to seek information is higher amongst those who have greatest awareness of the Act and its powers.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, commented: ?Again we have seen a steady increase in the number of people who are definitely aware of the Freedom of Information Act, showing a rise from 30 to 57 per cent during the year to October, during which period the Act actually took effect.

?Already the Act is being used by thousands of people across Scotland and we can expect that number to grow as awareness increases of its potential use and relevance to individuals.

?The nature of requests being made under the Act and the types of people using their new powers, be they ordinary members of the public, journalists, business people or voluntary organisations, is broadly in line with the first year experience of other democracies where similar laws have been introduced.

?However the number of appeals to my office is significantly higher than expected, and that suggests that some authorities are still coming to terms with the requirements of the Act, whether it be in providing information requested or in justifying withholding it. Whatever the initial challenge caused by implementation I think it is important for all public authorities to realise the long-term benefits of openness, transparency and accountability to the public.?

View the research here:

PDF iconFreedom of Information (Public Awareness) Third Survey Report (pdf format - 139 KB)

PDF iconTables of Results (pdf format - 515 KB. Please note: this is a large file and may take some time to download)

PDF iconTables of Results cross-referenced with awareness of the Act and of the Commissioner (pdf format - 224 KB).

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