U.K. Statistics Watchdog Probes Unauthorized Jobs Data Leak

  • Authority says labor report shared with up to 300 people early
  • Pre-release data access may hurt public trust, watchdog says

Britain’s statistics watchdog is probing an early leak of labor-market data within a government department before the figures were publicly released.

The Statistics Authority said the substance of the Jan. 20 report was shared by someone at the Department for Work and Pensions with as many as to 300 people before it was officially published. This took place through a social-media network by a person who was not approved to have pre-release access to the statistics, it said.

The authority has written to the department and said it’s “deeply concerned” about the matter.

More than 100 people across multiple government departments and at the Bank of England are on the list for early access.

Such “unauthorized” releases have happened before and the watchdog has previously urged Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to stop allowing ministers and government officials access to information before it’s made public. It has argued that the practice damages public trust and gives the impression that data are manipulated by ministers. Osborne has said it’s needed to allow time to prepare a prompt response.

“The authority is deeply concerned about the impact that breaches (and apparent breaches) relating to the unauthorized, widespread sharing of statistics before their publication may have on the trustworthiness of the U.K.’s official statistics system,” Ed Humpherson, the head of regulation at the watchdog, wrote in a letter to Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, on Friday.

The Statistics Authority will investigate the issue and publish a report next week, said spokeswoman Vanessa Holden. The organization, which is independent of the government and reports to parliament, oversees the Office for National Statistics which produces U.K. economic data.

The DWP said it was “committed to complying in every way with the rules set out by the U.K. Statistics Authority,” and had put in place additional measures since the incident. The department will “respond formally to the UKSA shortly,” it said.

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