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Group says U.K. not ready for Y2K

A group criticizes the British government for not taking the Year 2000 technology problem seriously enough as an internal memo surfaces.

    The British government this week is experiencing a Y2K reality check from forces within and outside the institution.

    Late yesterday, the privately funded British organization Taskforce 2000 criticized the government for not taking the Year 2000 technology problem seriously enough, and warned that the government could experience a tumultuous entry into the next century as a result.

    "It has been slow in getting to grips with this and now is forced to engage in damage limitation," said Taskforce 2000 executive director Robin Guenier.

    The stern warning came just days after a memo leaked to the press revealed that privately the British government fears that the millennium bug could create widespread civil emergencies by disrupting key services such as electricity and telecommunications.

    Revelations about the possibility of calling in troops to help communities that lose power and essential services as a result of computer glitch is also suggested in the letter, obtained by CNET News.com yesterday.

    The memo was first leaked to the Scottish National Party.

    Back to Year 2000 Index Page Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, writing to George Robertson, the Defense Secretary, eight weeks ago, raised the prospect of troop activation as part of his attempts to resist severe cuts in Scotland's Territorial Army, observers said.

    Dewar argued that the cuts could not come at a worse time because they could severely hamper Scotland's ability to cope with a serious civil emergency, like one that could be brought on by the Year 2000 technology problem.

    "This could well lay the Government open to criticism over a reduction of emergency preparedness at a time when Millennium bug problems pose a potential threat to key services...and when, therefore, emergency preparedness should if anything be enhanced," Dewar wrote in his memo sent in August.

    The memo sparked harsh debate in that country over how much the government is telling the public about its concern over the Year 2000 technology problem and its possible impact on civil peace.

    Guenier, who at one time was head of the British government's Y2K focus group, said Dewar's letter was the first time private Cabinet concerns had become public, and he criticized ministers for trying to play down the risks posed by the bug.

    In the U.S., warnings of civil unrest have been relegated mostly to fringe elements within the Y2K community.

    However, there have been some indications about concerns by officials in the U.S. government that American civilians and government employees traveling or working abroad should be prepared for potential civil unrest in other countries due to the computer problem.

    In May, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency's body on Y2K, Sherry Burns, said the agency is not taking the issue lightly.

    "We're concerned about the potential disruption of power grids, telecommunications, and banking services," among other possible fallout, especially in countries already torn by political tensions, she said.

    Burns said that her agency has begun to collect and analyze information on preparations for the "social, political, and economic tumult" that could flow from interruptions of essential services in some fragile societies.

    In Britain, the Taskforce 2000 report released yesterday said the British government had still greatly underestimated the cost impact of fixing its systems even after an upward adjustment of its estimates to three billion pounds ($4.98 billion) from one billion pounds.

    "Cost creep" and private sector experience indicate that a comprehensive fix for the public sector would amount to between seven and eight billion pounds," the report stated.

    It also ranked government departments in terms of their individual preparedness for the millennium date change, but added that there was still an enormous amount to be done across the board.

    Reuters contributed to this report.