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U.S. Jobless Claims Were Available Early, Firm Says

U.S. jobless claims data were available on the Labor Department’s website about 15 minutes before the scheduled release today, according to Stone & McCarthy Research Associates.

The firm was able to access the figures from the Labor Department’s website before the embargoed time of 8:30 a.m., according to Ray Stone, managing director of Stone & McCarthy Research Associates in Princeton, New Jersey.

Stephen Barr, a spokesman for the Labor Department, declined to immediately comment.

Applications for unemployment benefits are among the most closely-watched figures for clues on the progress of the labor market.

Jobless claims unexpectedly dropped by 6,000 to 361,000 in the week ended Aug. 4, according to the Labor Department in Washington. The median forecast of 43 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 370,000.

The early release of the claims occurred as reporters were attending a so-called lockup, in which embargoed copies of the release are provided to the media and the organizations’ electronic dissemination of the figures is controlled by government employees. During a lockup, reporters are unable to communicate with anyone outside the media room.

In April, the Labor Department ordered media organizations to remove computer software, hardware and communications lines they had installed at the department in order to guard against data leaks at the lockups.

Lockup Process

Reporters in lockups are given market-sensitive data, typically 30 minutes before their broader release. This gives journalists time to prepare stories and headlines that are published after a government employee throws a switch opening communications lines to the news organizations’ computer systems.

After protests from Bloomberg and other news organizations, and a congressional hearing in which senior editors from organizations including Bloomberg testified, the Labor Department agreed to allow the media to continue using their own equipment and data lines. Reporters will be required to leave mobile phones and other electronic devices in lockers outside of the lockup room, along with personal effects such as umbrellas and purses.

The Labor Department’s lockup room is currently closed as new equipment is installed. All of the agency’s economic reports are being released from the Commerce Department for the rest of this month.

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