May 12, 2009 / 3:28 PM / 11 years ago

Inquiry into accidental jobs data leak

LONDON (Reuters) - Officials launched an inquiry on Tuesday after an accidental data leak forced them to rush out market-sensitive jobs data a day early.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published unemployment and average earnings data at 2 p.m. after learning of the accidental release of some of the figures late on Tuesday morning. The data had been due for publication at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

“Some users of our data are given the data on an automated electronic basis. We discovered that some of the data had been sent to users inadvertently ahead of time,” an ONS spokesman said.

Karen Dunnell, Britain’s National Statistician, has launched an urgent inquiry to try to find out what went wrong and how a repetition can be avoided.

“This is something we take very, very seriously,” the spokesman said, adding that Dunnell would report back to the country’s statistics authority shortly.

Sterling bounced higher after the release of data which showed a smaller than expected rise in claimant count unemployment even as the overall unemployment rate rose to 7.1 percent.

The ONS normally tightly controls the release of data.

Journalists covering figures are given access to them an hour before the release time at the ONS office in central London. They are not allowed to communicate with the outside world before the publication embargo time has elapsed in a process known as a “lock-in.”

The government has suffered a string of data breaches over the past two years. They include the loss of secret intelligence files, the details of every prisoner in England and Wales, and information about thousands of potential army recruits.

The previous year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered a review after tax authorities lost data on 25 million people, exposing them to the risk of identity theft and fraud.

On a lighter note, newspapers reported this week that an aide to Brown had left confidential notes in the back of a London taxi — including details of how to apply make-up for media appearances.

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