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Sealand No More?

Sealand, the odd semi-independent “nation” off to coast of Britain caught fire. The home page of the principality mentions the fire and is asking for donations to rebuild.

Sealand has an extremely odd history. Essentially, it is a platform dating from the WWII era seven nautical miles off the coast of Britain. It claims independence from Britain as a country, although in practice no one really cares enough to push the point and they clearly rely on British services and protection (which is obvious from the response to the fire). The real questions are: is Sealand still needed, and if it is, what happens to its customers now?

Sealand, as an Internet phenomenon, came to prominence in August of 2000 as the site for HavenCo a secure colocation company. The idea was that Havenco would offer colocation services outside of the jurisdiction of any national borders. Sealand had an extremely liberal policy with respect to ecommerce and other online services (in short, no kiddie porn == no problem). Havenco proposed to capitalize on this by offering convenient colocation for financial services and other secret services beyond the reach of nations who could tax or otherwise interfere.

In practice, this never really caught on, for several reasons. Firstly, Sealand wasn’t that independent, because it has no real military or other enforcement capability (it’s hard to understand just how small the place is until you realize that during the fire a single security guard was present on Sealand). Secondly, Havenco had to buy transit (expensive transit) from the British mainland and was therefore subject to Acceptable Use Policies of its providers. But finally, national governments proved much less obnoxious about the Internet than many feared.

Lots of countries realized that something good was going on with the Internet, and that it was something that they didn’t quite understand. So they left it more of less alone for a while. While they keep threatening to interfere, the damage was mostly done to HavenCo’s business plan. Now new threats (DMCA, copyright nuttiness, porn prosecutions across jurisdiction, etc) are emerging, and Havenco won’t be there to help us fix them.

So will HavenCo rebuild? Will Sealand? Does any of us care?

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