U.S. Markets close in 2 hrs 4 mins

UPDATE 1-U.S. Labor Department to remove computers from data "lockups"

(Adds details, background)

WASHINGTON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Thursday announced changes to economic data "lockup" procedures, which would result in the removal of computers from its Washington newsroom effective March 1.

BLS Commissioner William Beach said the changes were intended to keep data secure prior to public release, stay ahead of rapidly changing technology and remove the advantage of media in providing data to high-speed traders.

He said the changes were in line with recommendations by the Labor Department's Inspector General, which in 2014 recommended that the BLS "implement a strategy designed to eliminate any competitive advantage that news organizations present in a lockup and/or their clients may have."

Media organizations, including Reuters News and Bloomberg, send reporters to data "lockups" to prepare stories in advance of release, with the government controlling a communications switch to prevent an inadvertent early release.

The system was put in place to allow media outlets to report the often complicated and extensive data, including the monthly employment report and quarterly gross domestic product report, accurately and with better context than if it were released "live."

"A new policy is lockup rooms will be free from all electronic devices," Beach said in a letter to bureau chiefs. "These updated procedures will strengthen the security of our data and offer the general public equitable and timely access."

Beach said the changes applied to BLS data, including the closely watched monthly employment report, consumer and producer inflation data, as well as the Department of Labor's weekly jobless claims report. He deferred questions regarding the data releases from the Commerce Department's Census Bureau and Bureau for Economic Analysis (BEA) to the Commerce Department.

The Commerce Department uses the Labor Department's newsroom, which from March will not be equipped with computers, for the Census and BEA data "lockups." (Reporting By Lucia Mutikani and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)