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New data haven to open on Sealand (yeah, right)

Posted by Matt on September 16, 2013         Tagged with: tech, internet

In the wake of all information being released about various government surveillance activities, you may have decided that you have just a few options if you want to keep your private life private:

  1. Never do anything that’s the least bit interesting or exciting so that any record of your life will be so boring that the poor NSA spooks forced to review it will fall asleep from boredom.
  2. Shun all technology and never leave the abandoned warehouse you call home, like Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.
  3. Heavily encrypt all your data and move it to a data haven in a country with no intelligence services and no concept of National Security Letters.

If you were leaning towards number 3, then good news everyone! HavenCo is back!

Mother Jones has an excellent article on the rebirth of everyone’s favorite data haven. For those who don’t remember, HavenCo was a failed attempt to start a data haven on Sealand, a former British sea fort known as Roughs Tower, which has been occupied since 1967 by Roy Bates and his family and associates. Bates claimed Sealand was a sovereign nation and thus not subject to other nation’s laws. This is an attractive feature if you’re looking to build a business based on keeping your customer’s data really, incredibly secure and secret. So in the late 90s HavenCo gave it a try. They had some limited success at first, getting a lot of publicity in the tech press. Then the company supplying their Internet connection went bust and it started to become clear that maybe Sealand wasn’t quite as sovereign as they held themselves out to be. Ultimately, the project fizzled out.

Now Avi Freedman, one of the original backers of the project, is hoping to resurrect it. The twist will be that the data itself won’t be stored on Sealand. The data will be heavily encrypted and stored on servers in the US and Europe. The encryption keys themselves will be stored on Sealand, thus giving Freedman enough time to throw them into the ocean in the event of a raid on the mainland servers. Or something.

If you’re a law geek, check out James Grimmelmann’s excellent University of Illinois Law Review paper Sealand, HavenCo and the Rule of Law. And then read the Wikipedia article on Sealand, because it’s awesome. Roy Bates may be my second favorite crazy person, right after Elon Musk. Here’s a brief excerpt:

In August 1978, while Bates and his wife were in England, Alexander Achenbach, who describes himself as the Prime Minister of Sealand, hired several German and Dutch mercenaries to spearhead an attack of Roughs Tower. They stormed the tower with speedboats, jet skis and helicopters, and took Bates' son hostage. Bates was able to retake the tower and capture Achenbach and the mercenaries. Achenbach, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held unless he paid DM 75,000 (more than US$35,000 or £23,000). The governments of the Netherlands, Austria and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed his imprisonment, citing the 1968 court decision. Germany then sent a diplomat from its London embassy to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Achenbach's release. Roy Bates relented after several weeks of negotiations and subsequently claimed that the diplomat's visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.

Awesome.

(Hat tip to Techdirt for bringing this to my attention. I feel bad that one of my first blog posts is a) already one month stale and b) essentially just a re-hash of something that’s already been covered so well by another blog. I just could not resist a chance to talk about Sealand).