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July 15, 1998

CLINTON ADDRESSES Y2K TO MIXED REVIEWS

By CBR Staff Writer

President Clinton, attempting to raise awareness of the Year 2000 problem and further the efforts to effectively deal with it, has proposed legislation that would protect companies that share information about confronting the issue. The so-called Good Samaritan law would encourage companies to work together on Y2K fixes by guaranteeing that business sharing information, with one another or the public, cannot be held legally liable for any inaccuracies in the information. In short, anyone providing information in good faith can’t be sued for the results of any actions based on that information. In a speech at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore urged cooperation in addressing the issue and said the Department of Labor was expanding its IT/Y2K job bank to put more workers on the case. Clinton also appealed to retired computer professionals to lend a hand and pledged $12m to the World Bank to aid it in spreading awareness of the problem in developing nations. Industry reaction to the president’s proposal was positive on the grounds that it both does a great deal in increasing awareness of the problem, and effectively helps dissolve a major obstacle to solving the problem, fear of litigation. But not all of what Clinton said was received with universal approval. Some saw the whole event as politically motivated. Recently, the Y2K problem has become a political issue as well as a technological one, with Republicans and Democrats arguing over how much should be done to prepare and how much money should be set aside to do it. Had Clinton not addressed the issue soon, he would have faced harsh criticism. Even now, some say the move came too late. Al Shay, an attorney specializing in Y2K compliance issues at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, characterized the speech as both politically-motivated and reactionary. Shay is among many who feel that the President’s address was a pre-planned reaction to a recent Congressional report card that gave a handful of federal agencies failing grades. Shay did agree that the proposed legislation was a good idea, though, and would help to reduce the amount of inevitable legislation brought about by the problem. Clinton’s pledge that the federal government would be fully Y2K compliant by March 1999, has been met with skepticism, however, and Shay called it completely unrealistic. Perhaps it is, and the administration knows it, but given the current political pressure on the topic, promises most likely had to be made. Clinton’s address did not mark the government’s first stab at promoting the exchange of Y2K information, as in June the Department of Justice gave its seal of approval to the Securities Industry Association, allowing securities dealers to freely share information without fear of violating any federal antitrust legislation. The approval was widely reported although a spokesperson for Justice admitted that it wasn’t a big deal, explaining that the SIA itself had requested the investigation in the first place and that the review of the matter was concluded quickly.

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