By Louise Egan
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's national statistics agency has spent nearly C$420,000 (251,120 pounds) to retrofit its media room with impenetrable metal walls to prevent wireless communication from reporters who obtain market-moving data under embargo, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The conversion of the media lockup room into a bunker-like vault, which was completed at the end of September, came after a probe into alleged leaks of data found no wrongdoing and as the federal agency faces budget cuts forcing it to eliminate or reduce 34 programs.
"The room was refitted to provide greater information security during lockups, ensuring that we stay abreast of technological advances in wireless communication," said Gabrielle Beaudoin, director general of communications at Statscan.
Statscan previously used wireless detection software to monitor whether reporters had internet access from within the room. The new structure blocks all radio signals from reaching the outside.
The windowless room, built inside the previous room, has metal-lined walls and a heavy door that seals shut with a large latch.
Financial news agencies use the room for economic indicators. Reporters are required to hand in their mobile devices and leave bags and coats outside. Communication lines are centrally shut off during the lockup and turned back on at the designated time, when the data is spewed out to clients.
The lockup is designed to ensure a level playing field so that the data is received by all interested parties at exactly the same time.
Beaudoin said the renovation cost C$417,936, which would be spread over two fiscal years in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
BUDGETS UNDER PRESSURE
The changes were made as the federal government asked Statscan to cut C$33.9 million from its budget by 2014-15 as part of a broader cost-cutting drive to help balance the federal budget by 2015. In June last year, the agency listed 34 programs that would be reduced or eliminated as a result.
In May 2009, some market players suspected that key employment data had leaked out early, noting a big gain in the Canadian dollar minutes before the official release of strong job numbers. The agency conducted an investigation and said it found no evidence of wrongdoing by its staff or media outlets, although it did tighten security measures.
In December 2010, Statscan acknowledged it had inadvertently released some sensitive market-moving economic data to some distributors up to 59 seconds ahead of its scheduled public release. An independent investigation later found the early release had been occurring for six years and Statscan said it took steps to ensure it did not happen again.
Another sharp rally in the Canadian dollar before the March 2013 release of higher-than-expected inflation numbers sparked market speculation the report could have been leaked.(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Cooney)