Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, receiving the most requests, used law enforcement exemption as the most common cause for refusal to release data at 60.6% and 55.7%, respectively.
Our results seem to be in line with other research on trust in government: The public is rather dissatisfied with the level of transparency from government agencies and seems to distrust companies in particular when it comes to handling their personal data.
However, the general public also seems quite unfamiliar with the FOIA and what it means for government bodies and agencies, despite FOIA being a powerful tool to enforce government accountability. Out of the 800,000 requests filed annually under the FOIA, the Department of Homeland Security deals with around 50%. When declining to release information, it is most often under the exemption regarding law enforcement.
If you, like others, find yourself worrying that government processes are too opaque or arcane to understand, check out organizations that work to educate the public by accessing FOIA requests and other tools, or perhaps do some digging on your own to find what is truly available.
Methodology and Limitations
This study uses data from a survey of 1,007 people located in the U.S. Survey respondents were presented with a series of questions, including attention-check and disqualification questions. 58.2% of respondents identified as men, while 41% identified as women, and less than 1% reported an alternate gender identity or declined to provide their gender.
Respondents ranged in age from 19 to 80 with an average age of 39. 55.4% of respondents were millennials, 24.9% were Gen Xers, 11.5% were baby boomers, and 6.6% were Gen Zers. The remaining 1.6% came from older generations. With a confidence interval of 95%, this survey has a margin of error of 3%.
Please note that survey responses are self-reported and subject to exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping.
Fair Use Statement
We freely share this study’s findings on Americans’ trust of government transparency. If you think your friends or family might be interested in them, you are welcome to use any of the information here for noncommercial purposes; however, please link back to this page whenever you share it.