Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

January 10, 2000

The New Year
Y2K Expectations

The New Year arrived calmly and peacefully. With all the hype regarding Y2K, most Americans anticipated some degree of chaos either from failed computers or a terrorist attack. Now that the New Year produced no startling news, most Americans will probably react in the opposite direction; complacency.

The media blames Y2K scaremongers and alarmists for the concern for a computer-driven crisis. But for several months, official government announcements urging citizens to prepare for Y2K with extra cash and extra home provisions played a part in the fear that some Americans felt. These warnings for the most part were sincere, but there was obviously some ignorance by most of the "experts" on what would really happen.

Private computers were corrected beyond expectations, because many people did not understand or underestimated the free market's ability to adjust. The final word has not yet been heard on government computers. It may be that weeks or even months may be required to find out where the real glitches are. Most government checks, scheduled for early January, were processed in December, which may have only delayed the problems if they still exist. Evidence that the IRS computers have been corrected to adjust for calculating interest and penalties are yet to come.

It is even possible that "infected" computers may gradually interfere with corrected computers. Only time will tell if we still have any significant problems. I'm certain that if indeed we get by with minimal computer disruptions, the credit will go to the private programmers and non-government entities that knew it was in their best interest to appropriately deal with the problem.

But government bureaucrats never miss a chance to emphasize their importance. If indeed, the problem was not severe as it appears, it's interesting to note the high visibility in the past months of Y2K Czar, John Koskinen. He now seeks credit for saving the country from chaos. The government Information Coordination Center headed up by Koskinen and his consultants is already looking for another dragon to slay. They are now working to make the Center permanent for the purpose of monitoring any possible technological crisis in the future. The experts at the Center believe the World Wide Web needs closer monitoring. Koskinen concerns are: "information security, whether it's from viruses, hackers, cyber-terrorists, or others, and our ability to share information is critical."

This type of government surveillance bothers me and could be the vehicle for getting the government "leg" in the door to gain more control over the Internet. The Internet tax is a big issue and won't go away. When government bureaucrats talk of security, they mean theirs - not ours. And I'm sure that "national security interests" will always be used as an excuse for government to have more control over the Internet. Other arguments that will be used will include the need to assist federal law enforcement efforts in fighting drugs, tax dodgers, dead-beat dads, pornography, and child molesters, etc.

Not long ago, realizing Congress was moving to permit the use of encryption and the sale of encryption technology overseas voluntarily, Clinton said he would accomplish this through a directive. It sounded good, but as is the case with all presidential directives and executive orders, we must remain skeptical. Now some experts are saying that the President's move to permit these sales of encryption technology may have actually made the problem worse.

The question the American people must answer is how much liberty they are willing to sacrifice in order to allow the federal government to pursue goals that were once the domain of state and local law enforcement agencies.