Update 6/11/12: Labor had originally set deadline of June 15 for the media to begin using the government-issued computers, but officials have backed off due to complaints. A new start date for the policy is expected to be announced this week.
The U.S. Labor Department, with no public or advance notice, has given news organizations until June 15 to remove all their computers, software and electronic equipment from DOL offices. After that, journalists will be required to use government-issued computers, software and Internet lines to report on data such as unemployment figures issued by the agency.
Until now, the DOL policy had been to issue labor data early to journalists inside a special room called the “lock-up.” The journalists could then write their stories on their own computers and, when the release time arrived, transmit those stories over lines paid for by media organizations.
Labor cited security concerns in announcing the new policy, but it has not specified what was wrong with the old security procedures.
Journalists have expressed concerns that this would allow the government to access their stories and control how and when stories are transmitted. Quizzed over whether the new system would have enough capacity for all the journalists to transmit at the same time, Carl A. Fillichio, senior adviser for communications and public affairs, said, “I’m not going to guarantee anything.”
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said, “Requiring journalists to draft and publish stories using government owned computers loaded with government-controlled software simply crosses the line the First Amendment clearly drew to separate the press from the government.”
Congressman Darell Issa expressed alarm at the authoritarian way the decision was made.
“The abrupt nature of this change, coupled with the absence of a clear explanation and a lack of public input, raises key questions about who made this decision to implement this change and why,” Issa told journalist Bridget Johnson. “Did that individual have the authority of law?”
The Obama Administration has used its influence to keep stories about the first family out of the media and has a full-time staff that tries to control stories on the Internet about Obama.
With this maneuver by the Department of Labor, the administration appears to be digging its fingers even more deeply into the newsroom.