Government secrecy: public attitudes toward information provided by the authorities

Johanna Gunnlaugsdottir (Department of Information Science, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Publication date: 20 July 2015



The purpose of this paper is to present findings of a survey conducted during 2012 in Iceland with the intent of examining public opinion on government provision of information, i.e. whether the public felt that the authorities withheld information, either about subjects of general public interest or about public expenditures, if the authorities felt there was a reason to do so.


A survey questionnaire was sent in March 2012 to almost two thousand Icelanders. This was a random sample selected from the National Registry. The response rate was almost 67 per cent. The survey was modelled on other research and resources that had examined trust toward public authorities and the influence of Freedom of Information Acts on government information practices.


The survey discovered that the greater part of the citizenry felt that the authorities did keep important information of general public interest secret often or sometimes. Only 2-3 per cent of them believed that this never happened. Most of those surveyed felt as well that important information about public expenditures was often or sometimes withheld. Only 3-5 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that this never happened.

Practical implications

The results could be of value to public authorities that want to improve the provision of information and practice according to freedom of information act. They could also bring varied and valuable opportunities to the profession of records managers as well as others who practice information management.


The survey adds valuable information and fulfils a need for a better understanding of what the public believes regarding government provision of information in Iceland. Although the survey is limited to Iceland, these findings may also be of value to public authorities and researchers in the Western World, Australia and New Zealand, to give a few examples where the culture and the practice of government may not be that different, as well as in other countries. The survey can lay the foundation for further research into the field.



Gunnlaugsdottir, J. (2015), "Government secrecy: public attitudes toward information provided by the authorities", Records Management Journal, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 197-222.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.