Panic stations over threat from computer Millennium Bug

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The Independent Online
THE PANIC button was pushed by the European Commission yesterday, with a stark warning that too little was being done to avert an international "Millennium Bug" computer crisis costing pounds 750bn and threatening lives and business.

"The overall level of actual preparation appears to be insufficient, in spite of the substantial risk of disruption to businesses as well as public services," the Commission said.

Urging accelerated action, it underlined the mounting sense of impending crisis with a bald description of the hazards ahead for individuals. "As far as the potential impact on consumers is concerned," the commission said, "examples include damage to personal and financial records, the miscalculation of transactions impacting savings, bank accounts, mortgages, errors in invoicing from utilities, errors on payrolls and salary payments. Safety is also at stake: the failure of a computer application in an aircraft, a traffic control system, a power station, or an intensive care unit can put human lives at risk."

The threat is posed by the fact that many computers are programmed to interpret the two-digit year 00 as 1900, rather than 2000, and it has been estimated that it could cost as much as pounds 750bn to correct software across the world.

Tony Blair has already taken a lead in raising awareness of the problem: setting up a special Cabinet Committee to review contingency planning for basic services such as water, gas, electricity, and transport; and getting President Bill Clinton to agree it as an agenda item for the summit of Group of Eight leading industrialised countries, to be held in Birmingham next May. Yesterday he sanctioned a ten-fold increase in the funds being committed to tackle the Millennium Bug. The budget for the campaign will rise from pounds 1m last year to close on pounds 10m this year.

Meanwhile the Financial Services Authority, the new watchdog for the City, intends to require firms to be millennium compliant as a condition of gaining a licence to operate. The move is especially aimed at the thousands of independent financial advisers who sell everything from pensions and life policies to mortgages.

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