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Sealand is burning

I first learned about Sealand, the micronation a few miles off the coast of England, in an article in Wired a few years ago, just after I'd finished reading Neal Stephenson's wonderful book Cryptonomicon.

I thought Sealand was one of the coolest things I'd heard of in a long time, a weird pseudo-state caught in the confusion of international law and border technicalities. It used to be a British naval defense rig during WWII. It was abondoned in the 50s, and taken over in the 60s. After some (dubious) legal precedents establishing sovereignty were set, Britain expanded its territorial waters out past Sealand. Meaning (the theory went) that Britain would rush to the defense of Sealand if anyone came after it, since such an incursion would bring the invaders within Britain's territorial waters. Through the years there've been coup attempts, hostage-takings, fake Sealand passports, coinage, governments-in-exile...The works. How awesome is that?

Sealand was a data haven, housing servers thought to be outside the reach of various national laws (based on the de facto sovereignty Sealand had established over the years). Cryptonomicon mentions a data haven, in a micronation in the Pacific, vowing not to snoop on the data stored on or passing through its server vaults underground. I thought the coincidental timing of having read Cryptonomicon and learning about Sealand was pretty slick, and cemented for me the legend of both Wired and Stephenson (who wrote one of my favorite magazine articles ever, a 60+ page ad-free masterwork on the laying of transglobal fiber optic cables, for Wired, in the mid 90s). Point is, I loved the idea of a place whose laws specifically prevented the indiscriminate snooping on data.

And speech.

(For more, check out the terms of service for Sealand's state-owned hosting company Havenco.)

The horrors of warrentless wiretaps and other crimes against the Bill of Rights were theoretical and unlikely back then (it looked like Al Gore would win in 2000...), but I remember feeling that legal protection for data security seemed like a good idea anyway.

Another thing about Sealand that resonated for me is that it's really close to a part of England in which I've spent a lot of time. It's 7 miles off Felixstowe, near Ipswich and Woodbridge, where some 2nd cousins of mine have lived for a long time, and whom my parents and I visited a lot when I was a kid. We used to go sailing on the river that connects Woodbridge to the North Sea. Etc.

Now, I haven't been back there since I learned about Sealand, but I remember standing on that (inhospitably cold) coast around there and looking out and seeing ships moving around on the horizon. Maybe I saw Sealand too on one of those trips as a 5-year-old.

Sealand caught fire on Friday, and a variety of firefighting equipment rushed to the scene, but the rig's condition is uknown. The one occupant was airlifted to Ipswich for treatment of smoke inhalation.

And the prince of Sealand vows to rebuild.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on 2006-06-24 at 23:44.

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