Labor Dept. delays plan to make reporters use government-issued equipment

Meagan Clark Contributor
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The Labor Department has delayed a plan to require journalists to use government-issued computers, software and Internet lines to write about jobless reports and other economic data released to them ahead of the public from inside a “lock-up” room.

Carl Fillichio, who runs the DOL’s public affairs and is the senior communications adviser to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, said in May that media reporting on the weekly data must use the government equipment starting July 6.

Fillichio announced Friday in an email to The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones that a new start date will be released this week.

“Per my commitment to Chairman Issa’s request, we are going to move the effective date on changes to the lock up,” Fillichio wrote, according to the Washington Examiner. “Everyone will be getting an updated schedule by early next week, if not sooner… let me know if this satisfies your legal concerns.”

Some news organizations have vowed to fight the rule in court and seek an injunction that would prohibit the changes to the lock-up procedure, currently available to 20-30 journalists from 15 organizations. The delay is giving the media groups involved and the DOL more time to negotiate this week.

“This proposal threatens the First Amendment,” Bloomberg News Executive Editor Dan Moss said Wednesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. “The government would literally open the reporters’ notebooks.”

Sandia National Laboratories, a government-owned entity, assessed the DOL’s security in 2011 and recommended additional safeguards.

The Office of Management and Budget does not require or even recommend that the DOL pre-release the federal economic data to reporters, but since the DOL has opted to, the OMB requires security measures to prevent premature release of the data to the public.

Reporters are given data at 8 a.m. for 8:30 a.m. public dissemination.

“The department provides press lock-ups solely for the purpose of serving the general public by facilitating the news media’s ability to read, review, analyze and ask questions about the data as they prepare news stories explaining the economic reports,” Fallichio said at the hearing. “We believe the press lock-ups are important because they facilitate good journalism and a more enlightened public debate about key economic indicators.”

But the DOL insists that changes to the lock-up procedure, which has evolved since 1988, are needed to protect against hacking and tighten the overall security of the sensitive information released to the reporters.

In 1988 the lock-up procedure was implemented with no equipment restrictions. Beginning in 1992, reporters were required to disconnect their computers from a power source until a designated time.

Between 2001 and 2002, movements in the markets prior to 8:30 a.m. prompted the DOL to install a master wall switch to control every computers’ transmission time. An “honor minute” was established to give reporters time to warm up their equipment, but according to Fillichio, the DOL abolished it in 2008 after observing typing, instant messaging and telephone conversations between 8:29 and 8:30 a.m.

Fillichio said “it has become increasingly challenging” to guarantee that the data is not released prematurely.

If media groups are not satisfied with this week’s negotiations, they will follow through on their promise to seek an injunction, the Washington Examiner reports.

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