Seven miles off the coast of southern England, a group of American Internet entrepreneurs is planning to set up the world’s first offshore data haven. Based on the independent principality of Sealand, the self-proclaimed smallest principality in the world, the new company called Havenco promises prospective clients complete safety for their computer files and
ÆGIS, August 2000 27freedom from the laws and regulations of any government, other than Sealand’s. At a time when governments are creating new laws to control and police the Internet, Havenco — complete with its own armed guards, radar defense, and passport control — hopes its new home may prove as popular as offshore tax havens.
American computer technicians have flocked to Sealand’s shores –(well, dock), preparing to install millions of dollars’ worth of computer equipment designed for clients who want their transactions and e-mail free from outside interference and investigation. Customers will buy servers or space on servers housed deep within the support legs of the former military bunker’s platform.
Havenco will offer an environment where you can put your business, where the regulatory environment won’t change on you. There have been cases in the United States where people’s computers have been seized or their files gone through, based on little or no evidence. Havenco is promising that this will never happen on Sealand. And if its short history is any indication of what its future might hold, it could be right.
Sealand is about the size of a football field. It was once an antiaircraft bunker called Roughs Tower.
In 1967 Roy Bates, claiming it belonged to his ancestors, moved his family to the concrete and metal platform seven miles off the southeast coast of England. A year after he declared himself Prince Roy and his wife Princess Joan, the Royal Navy attempted to evict Bates. He responded by firing gunshots and molotov cocktails in a retaliatory move he called “The Battle of Roughs Tower.”
Despite court challenges related to this incident, British authorities found that since Sealand was outside the then-three-mile limit of territorial waters recognized by international law, Sealand was outside English jurisdiction. This decision helped establish the legal basis for Sealand’s independence.
Sealand’s government has written a constitution, composed a national anthem, created stamps, minted coins, and issued passports.
England has ignored Sealand, leaving the sovereignty to its own covert undertakings, which include pirate radio and alleged criminal activity.
The late Andrew Cunanan, the accused killer of fashion designer Gianni Versace, is probably the most notorious “citizen” of Sealand, and just this spring at least 50 people were suspected of arms trafficking, drug smuggling, and money laundering activities using passports supposedly issued by Sealand.
Embassies throughout South America, the Middle East, and Africa have recognized the passports. Bates denies any involvement in these activities.
Havenco is the first business venture legitimately recognized by Bates, despite many proposals made during the principality’s history. As for Sealand’s future, this soon-to-be cyberspace may soon have duty-free shopping and a casino.
Those in the business of producing products that might turn out to be dangerous will be worried about class actions several years down the line. If all their key scientific data is offshore, then there is no way in which the victims are going to be able to get disclosure via the courts.
It remains to be seen whether the British government will continue to turn a blind eye to Sealand and its new business venture. In the next few weeks it will be introducing a new law reinforcing the government’s powers to seize and investigate electronic files and e-mails. Will the government pursue this law? Even into the historically sovereign territory of Sealand?
Roy Bates says that, whatever happens, he is determined to maintain his principality’s independence: “I wouldn’t let them retake Sealand. End of story. I wouldn’t let it happen.”