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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Public opinion about access rights

The Federal Privacy Commissioner conducts a survey of public opinion every couple of years about attitudes to privacy issues- see Research.But in all our Freedom of Information experience in this country since 1982 I'm yet to see any government initiate and publish information about public attitudes to, and understanding of, access to information rights, and trends over time. Such measures of course would throw some light on whether we are getting anywhere in achieving key democratic objectives of FOI legislation- extending the public right to know and increasing public participation in government affairs.

All power to the UK Ministry of Justice for the publication of the Information rights tracker survey - key wave 10 results the tenth such survey since 2005. Key results:
"The majority of respondents are aware of their right to access information under the
Freedom of Information and Data Protection acts, although more respondents are aware of the latter than the former. Respondents tend to disagree that public authorities are open and trustworthy, but tend to agree that public authorities are becoming more open. The majority of respondents think that public authorities can be held to account because of the right to get information from them. Respondents are generally comfortable about giving personal information to businesses and public authorities (more so to the latter than the former). This increased in the latest wave, suggesting that the recent media reports of data losses by public and private sector organisations have not had a marked effect on public opinion on this issue.
Just under a half of all respondents cannot name a specific piece of legislation under
which rights of access to information are granted, which was particularly the case for
respondents aged under 25 and over 65. Between a quarter and a third of respondents can name either the DPA or the FoI Act or both."
Interesting to speculate what percentage of Australians would know people have a legal right to get hold of information about the work of a public authority (UK 83%); about our response to the question whether public authorities are becoming more open about what they do and how they are run (UK 50% agree strongly or slightly); and whether they are generally open and trustworthy (UK 35% agree strongly or slightly). Any government game to find out?

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