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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: A data sanctuary is born

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Mon, 05 Jun 2000 08:27:01 -0400
To:             	politech@vorlon.mit.edu
From:           	Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
Subject:        	FC: A data sanctuary is born 
Send reply to:  	declan@well.com


    A Data Sanctuary is Born
    by Declan McCullagh (declan@wired.com)

    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

    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

    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 flag.

    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 dawn.

    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 said.

    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 officer.

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

    [...remainder snipped...]

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