News reporters are no longer allowed to use computers – pen and paper only – to write articles on key US economic reports before making them available to the public.
The Department of Labor said on Thursday that the media should not use technology during lockups, a process of spreading news that has existed since the mid-1980s.
The changes are expected to take effect on March 1. Labor Statistics Commissioner William Beach said the goal is to protect data integrity and ensure a level playing field. Some critics say that early access gives the media an unfair advantage.
Read: Why the Trump White House may be stopping the media from looking for big economic reports
During detention, reporters are locked up in a secure government room and cut off from the Internet up to an hour before reports such as employment and inflation are released. They write articles on computers and archive them online as soon as a lock is closed when the reports are made available to a wider audience.
The original goal of the ban was to give reporters the opportunity to ask questions to government experts to avoid mistakes and put the news in context. On the whole, it's still how they work.
Concerns about data security have grown over the past decade, and some critics argue that the media have an unfair advantage.
A 2014 Department of Labor review found that some news companies received high annual fees by packing data in formats that fast traders could use computer algorithms to digest to buy and sell economic news stocks.
The Obama administration took a number of steps to tighten security and even considered ending the blockades altogether. However, opposition from Congress and a shift in priorities prompted them to postpone these plans.
Beach cited the 2014 report to support the new bridging restrictions. One of the media media that provides government data to well-heeled customers is Bloomberg News, whose founder Michael Bloomberg is running for the presidency to challenge Donald Trump in 2020.
A senior official from the Department of Labor, who Bloomberg was denied, was involved in the decision-making process and referred to the 2014 report. He also said that the department has invested heavily in new technologies to help a large number of users access the Labor site visit, encounter when important economic reports are published.
"We now have the ability to make this change," he said. "At 8:30 a.m., we can deal with a large increase in data usage."
Forcing reporters to use old-fashioned pen and paper, however, appears to go beyond leveling the competitive environment. This could potentially put them at a disadvantage as it would take them longer to spread the news.
"This is crazy. What is the next step? Have your stories carved on stone tablets that will then be distributed with bullock carts?" Asked an economist who did not want to be named. "The technology may progress, but that does not prevent us to take a step back, or I guess she has to take a step back. Good grief. "
Reporters may want to submit the reports from their office, where they have computer and internet access. If fewer and fewer people go into captivity over time, the BLS is likely to get the green light to get rid of them completely.
Two former BLS commissioners were split over the decision. Keith Hall, who headed the agency in the Bush administration, said that bridging still plays a useful role.
Nevertheless, Erica Groshen, head of the BLS in the White House Obama, supports the end of the captivity in view of the relatively high operating costs and the danger of security gaps.
It is unclear whether the trade department will follow suit, but is expected to make its own announcement shortly. The department publishes some important reports such as gross domestic product, retail sales and consumer spending.