How “Cypherpunks” Tried, and Failed, To Establish a Data Haven on Sealand

WikiLeaks, never out of headlines for very long, recently announced a plan to move its servers offshore, to a place called Sealand. The name may make it sound like an aquatic-themed Disney World attraction, but it’s not so magical: Sealand is “a rusty, World War II-era, former anti-aircraft platform,” in Fox News’ words. Sealand is a micro-nation, though it isn’t officially recognized internationally.

In a fascinating, lengthy piece posted yesterday on Ars Technica, James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at New York Law School, looks back at a previous attempt to turn Sealand into a sanctuary for cyber outlaws. From 2000-2008, Grimmelmann writes, a company called HavenCo tried to make Sealand into something of a data Switzerland, where people could store information without pesky government interference. Grimmelmann writes,

HavenCo’s failure—and make no mistake about it, HavenCo did fail—shows how hard it is to get out from under government’s thumb. HavenCo built it, but no one came. For a host of reasons, ranging from its physical vulnerability to the fact that The Man doesn’t care where you store your data if he can get his hands on you, Sealand was never able to offer the kind of immunity from law that digital rebels sought. And, paradoxically, by seeking to avoid government, HavenCo made itself exquisitely vulnerable to one government in particular: Sealand’s.

Get the rest of the story on Ars Technica, or better yet, download Grimmelmann’s 80-page University of Illinois Law Review article, “Sealand, HavenCo, and the Rule of Law” (PDF).