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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 05:38 GMT 06:38 UK
People 'unsure' of new data law
Freedom of Information image
Public bodies will have new access responsibilities from next year
Only 30% of people in Scotland are aware of a new law which will give them greater access to official information, a report has suggested.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FoI) will allow the public to see a range of facts held by bodies such as councils, the police and health boards.

The poll of 1,009 people - ordered by Scotland's information chief - found only 32% knew what the act was for.

Two thirds did not know it referred to general data and not personal facts.

The right to see information which is held on an individual is already enshrined in the Data Protection Act.

POLL FINDINGS
30% had heard of the act
14% thought they had heard of it
32% said it referred to general information
12% said they were very or quite likely to use it
79% said bodies would be more open
57% said there would be greater confidence in decisions of bodies
70% were concerned that bodies could get around the law
The FoI Scotland Act comes into effect next January. It will allow the public to see policy papers, statistics and financial information belonging to organisations such as Scottish Water, the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Parliament and education institutions.

Public bodies will be allowed to charge up to 10% of retrieval costs between 100 and 600. If the cost is likely to be above this upper limit, the authority is not obliged to provide the information.

Information can also be withheld in other circumstances, for example, due to national security or defence requirements, criminal investigations or where the release is outlawed by other legislation.

Refusals of information can ultimately be appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, who is responsible for promoting and enforcing the new rights and can force release of documents.

Kevin Dunion
Kevin Dunion is Scotland's information commissioner
He 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."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "The FoI Act is an executive initiative aimed at making public bodies more open and accountable.

"We would welcome and encourage any plans to raise awareness in the act and clarify the public's rights to access to information held by Scottish public authorities."




SEE ALSO:
Information Act brought forward
09 Jun 03  |  Scotland
MSPs vote to fill 'freedom' post
12 Dec 02  |  Scotland
MSPs pass Information Bill
24 Apr 02  |  Scotland
Bid to end 'culture of secrecy'
28 Sep 01  |  Scotland
Call for stronger freedom law
03 Jan 01  |  Scotland


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