How aware are the public of Scotland's new Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation?

Research released today (4 October 2004) by the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Scottish research shows people need to know more about their right to know

A national survey designed to test public awareness of and attitudes to Scotland's new freedom of information (FOI) law shows that the majority of people are as yet unaware of the rights they will gain in January 2005. However, most do think that FOI will make public authorities more open and accountable.

The Scottish Information Commissioner commissioned the research to establish the level of public knowledge of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 before launching a major public awareness campaign in January 2005. A follow-up survey will be carried out in spring 2005 to measure the campaign's success.

  • Only 30% of people surveyed said they definitely had heard of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, while another 14% said they thought they had.
  • When asked what rights the law would create, two thirds of respondents thought it would provide access to personal information about themselves (already available under the Data Protection Act). Only 32% correctly believed it would give them access to general information (such as financial information, statistical data and policy papers).
  • 12% said they were very or quite likely to use the right to access information during the next year.
  • 79% agreed with the statement that "authorities will become more open and accountable" as a result of the Act.
  • 57% agreed that members of the public will have more confidence in decisions made by public authorities as a result of the Act.
  • However, 70% also voiced concerns that public authorities will find ways around the law to avoid releasing information that they don?t want to release.

Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner said:

"Our research shows that most people see freedom of information as being useful to them and good for society, but they are confused about what they can expect from the new legislation. People will only feel confident about requiring authorities to release information which should be public knowledge if they are sure about their new rights. My job is as much about promoting the new Freedom of Information Act as enforcing it, and I will be launching a major promotional campaign in January 2005 to ensure that public awareness improves."


View the research here:

Freedom of Information (Public Awareness) Survey Report (Public Awareness) Survey Report (PDF - 124 KB)

Tables of Results (PDF - 744 KB)

For further information contact: Claire Sigsworth on 01334 464610.
Out of hours pager: 07644 016 010.

Notes to Editors

  • Progressive Partnership carried out the research using their in-house Omnibus poll, Scottish Opinion. 1009 people were interviewed by telephone during the week beginning August 23rd 2004.
  • The research includes a breakdown of the results by region.
  • 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 comes into effect on 1st January 2005.
  • Around 10,000 public authorities in Scotland are covered by the Act. They include the Scottish Parliament and Executive, police forces, the NHS, local authorities, education institutions, and publicly owned companies.
  • From 1st January, information can only be withheld by a public authority if it falls under one of the exemptions listed in the Act. Exemptions include where the information may prejudice national security or defence, or where the release is prohibited by another piece of legislation.
  • 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 force release.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

  • Kevin Dunion is the first Scottish Information Commissioner; promoting freedom of information for everyone in Scotland.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner is a fully independent public official, appointed by the Queen on 24 February 2003 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 (Scotland) Act.

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