U.S. Labor Department delays removal of media firms’ computers from data ‘lockups’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Tuesday it was delaying by at least a week its requirement that news agencies remove computers from a room it provides for coverage of embargoed economic reports.

Last month, BLS said it had decided to remove computers from its data “lockups,” effective March 1, to keep data secure prior to public release, stay ahead of rapidly changing technology and remove the advantage of media that provided data to high-speed traders.

It said the changes were in line with recommendations the department’s inspector general made in 2014.

But in a statement on Tuesday, BLS Commissioner William Beach said the bureau had decided to delay the plan to ensure readiness. “Implementation of the changes to the Department’s lock-up will now occur no sooner than March 9, 2020,” he said.

Lawyers representing Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Dow Jones & Company and Market News early this month wrote a letter to Beach requesting that the agency abandon its plan to remove electronic equipment from its “lockups.”

In the lockup facility, media organizations prepare stories 30 to 60 minutes in advance of release, with the government controlling a communications switch to prevent an inadvertent early public release.

Had the changes gone into effect next Monday, reporters would have been required to write stories on a pad in the secure facility and then later dictate them to their offices once the embargo lifted.

BLS publishes the closely watched monthly employment report, as well as reports on productivity, import prices, employment costs and consumer and producer prices. The next employment report is scheduled for March 5.

Reports published by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau, including data on gross domestic product, consumer spending and housing starts, would also be affected by any changes as they use the Labor Department newsroom for their data “lockups” as well.

Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Kim Coghill