I said there was more Sealand news coming, and here it is! Ars Technica has published a shorter spinoff of my Sealand article, under the title Death of a Data Haven. This version focuses on the rise and fall of HavenCo, with brief excursions into Sealand’s history and my explanation of why its failure was overdetermined. It was also my chance to bring back a few outtakes from the longer article, such as the Toxic Barge Project. Ars did its usual crackerjack editing and illustration job. I’m really happy with the end result—think of it as the short article I initially set out to write, before realizing that I’d need to research and write the long version first.
Here’s the introduction:
A few weeks ago, Fox News breathlessly reported that the embattled WikiLeaks operation was looking to start a new life under on the sea. WikiLeaks, the article speculated, might try to escape its legal troubles by putting its servers on Sealand, a World War II anti-aircraft platform seven miles off the English coast in the North Sea, a place that calls itself an independent nation. It sounds perfect for WikiLeaks: a friendly, legally unassailable host with an anything-goes attitude.
But readers with a memory of the early 2000s might be wondering, “Didn’t someone already try this? How did that work out?” Good questions. From 2000 to 2008, a company called HavenCo did indeed offer no-questions-asked colocation on Sealand—and it didn’t end well.
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. It found that out the hard way in 2003 when Sealand “nationalized” the company.