Declan McCullagh on Mon, 5 Jun 2000 17:22:46 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Life imitiates Cryptonomicon: A data haven is born,1367,36749,00.html

    A Data Sanctuary is Born
    by Declan McCullagh (

    5:00 p.m. Jun. 4, 2000 PDT
    WASHINGTON -- A windswept gun tower anchored six miles off the stormy
    coast of England is about to become the first Internet data haven.

    A group of American cypherpunks has transformed the rusting fortress,
    erected by the British military during World War II to shoot down Nazi
    aircraft, into a satellite-linked virtual home for anyone looking for
    a secure place to store sensitive or controversial data.

    The founders of HavenCo, which will announce operations on Monday,
    believe the concept will appeal to individuals and businesses looking
    for a "safe haven" from governments around that world that are
    becoming more and more interested in Internet regulation and taxation.

    It's for "companies that want to have email servers in a location in
    which they can consider their email private and not open to scrutiny
    by anyone capable of filing a lawsuit," says Sean Hastings, the
    32-year-old chief executive of HavenCo.

    Hastings says that because a 1968 British court decision effectively
    recognized the basketball court-sized island as a sovereign nation
    called Sealand, HavenCo can provide more privacy and legal protections
    then anyone else on the planet.

    To create HavenCo -- which will offer Linux servers for $1,500 a month
    -- the founders signed an agreement with Roy Bates, the quirky "crown
    prince" of Sealand who landed on the abandoned platform in 1966 and
    claimed it as an independent nation with its own currency, stamps, and

    Bates, a former British Army major, has undertaken a string of failed
    business ventures in an attempt make use of the world's tiniest
    country -- a platform just 10 by 25 yards that perches atop two cement
    caissons in the North Sea.

    One plan was to build Sealand into a three-mile-long, man-made island
    with an airport and banks. Another venture included working with
    German investors to build a $70 million hotel and gambling complex --
    a scheme that fell apart with the Germans taking over the fortress in
    1978 and Bates regaining control in a dramatic helicopter raid at

    This time the elder Bates, now about 80 years old, is taking no
    chances on his business partners: His son and royal heir-apparent,
    Michael, is HavenCo's chief logistics officer and the royal family has
    a seat on the board.

    But today Sealand's potential adversaries include not merely a few
    expansion-minded Germans, but nervous government officials who are
    aggressively trying to pull the plug on unapproved offshore

    During a Paris summit in May, for instance, representatives of the
    Group of Eight (G8) nations met to hammer out an agreement on
    international Net law. "The idea is to produce a global text so there
    cannot be 'digital havens' or 'Internet havens' where anyone planning
    some shady business could find the facilities to do it," French
    Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said at the time.

    When Sealand was simply an eccentric's hobby, the British government
    largely ignored the smallest country in the world. But if HavenCo
    becomes a popular destination for gambling, money laundering, or other
    socially disapproved activities, governments could move against it.

    The Home Office in London could restrict the microwave links that
    provide HavenCo with its lifeline to the outside world, and the
    companies offering satellite connectivity could come under pressure
    from regulators in their home countries. HavenCo could even find its
    bank accounts imperiled.

    For their part, HavenCo executives say they hope to avoid negative
    publicity. "We don't intend to make anyone angry at us. We simply want
    to provide online businesses a place with a sane set of rules that are
    not constantly changing," Hastings said.

    "If larger nations have a problem with unrestricted information flow,
    then their problem is with the increase in information technology, and
    not with us. They can't put the genie back in the bottle until every
    individual on the planet has had their three wishes come true," he

    Somewhat ironically, bandits recently set up a fake "Principality of
    Sealand" website to sell citizenship to unsuspecting visitors. Spanish
    authorities reportedly are investigating a gang involved with drug
    smuggling and arms trafficking using those passports.

    In a bizarre incident, one "Sealand" passport of dubious origin
    surfaced in connection with the July 1997 murder of fashion designer
    Gianni Versace in Miami.

    The British Embassy in Washington declined to comment on what would
    prompt London to take action against the legitimate prince of Sealand.
    "What it comes down to is that this is a hypothetical (situation), and
    so we cannot speculate on this," said Peter Reed, the embassy's press

    In interviews, U.S. government officials indicated they would take a
    more active approach.

    [...remainder snipped...]

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