Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WikiLeaks Mulls Moving Its Servers to Sealand to Dodge National Laws

It is still unconfirmed, but Fox News reported yesterday that WikiLeaks, the international whistleblower website founded by the eccentric Australian hacker Julian Assange, is planning to move its Internet servers offshore to avoid prosecution and has already started the process by purchasing a boat for the purpose.  Right now, WikiLeaks’ servers are housed in Sweden and Iceland, and reportedly one of the locations WikiLeaks investors are considering is the Principality of Sealand, in the North Sea, the world’s most famous and successful micronation.  Arguably, Sealand is the granddaddy of the whole micronation movement.

[Note: Please see this blog’s obituary of Prince Roy of Sealand, posted Oct. 11, 2012.]

Sealand, despite its name, has no actual land associated with it.  Its “territory,” all 550 square meters (5,920 square feet) of it, consists entirely of the H. M. Fort Roughs, an abandoned Second World War–era floating pontoon fort situated 10 kilometers off the coast of County Suffolk, England.  In 1967, the Royal Marines responded to an outbreak of violence between different factions running a pirate radio station on the Fort Roughs.  One Paddy Roy Bates was tried in the legal aftermath of the incident and determined by a British court in 1968 to be immune from prosecution because the incident occurred on an abandoned built structure on the high seas, outside of any state’s jurisdiction.  With this legal guarantee of non-interference, Bates styled himself Prince Roy and set up the Principality of Sealand on the derrick.  Neither the United Kingdom nor any other nation (except other unrecognized micronations) has recognized it as sovereign, but it functions as a sovereign nation.  Although the small royal family are its only residents, thousands worldwide hold Sealandic passports, and the principality issues its own currency and stamps.

The flag of Sealand

There are no details as to whether Sealand, which generally does not allow foreign visitors, would welcome WikiLeaks’ servers.  Presumably, Assange’s people have been talking to Prince Roy’s son, Prince Michael (to whom Roy handed the reins of power in 1999 when he became ill, making Michael “Prince Regent as Sovereign Pro Tempore”).  This would be a big step, since Sealand has never quite gotten around to setting itself up as an offshore tax haven.  It is generally an eccentric family project and probably wants to stay out of trouble.  However, the Data Center Knowledge tech news website followed up on the story and was told by Prince Michael that, although Sealand officially shut down its colocation server service in 2008, they still have the capacity to host customers.  Apparently, he did not confirm or deny a deal with WikiLeaks.

Prince Roy and Princess Joan in the 1960s

But would situating its servers in Sealand put WikiLeaks outside any state’s jurisdiction?  Fox’s unnamed source from a hacker community with ties to Assange stated, “If you get a certain distance away from any land, then you’re dealing with maritime law.  They can’t prosecute [Assange] under maritime law.  He’s safe.  He’s not an idiot, he’s actually very smart.”  However, Fox also quotes Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology think tank in Washington, D.C., as saying, “Where the data resides [sic] isn’t what determines jurisdiction.  You prosecute real people, you don’t prosecute servers.  So if the WikiLeaks people want to live on a platform in the North Sea and educate their children there—for people who have lives, that doesn’t make sense.”

Sealand’s coat of arms

It is hard to imagine that all of the organizations which would like to stop Assange—including the C.I.A., the K.G.B., and nearly every government on earth—wouldn’t manage to find a way to prevent WikiLeaks from making a home offshore if they put their minds to it.  Some government may even do so by force, even if it amounted to a violation of international law.  If so, it wouldn’t be the first time Sealand saw combat since its founding.  In 1978, Sealand’s then prime minister, A. G. Achenbach, led a failed coup d’état while Prince Roy was temporarily off the derrick.  Prince Michael was held hostage for several days by Achenbach and a gang of German and Dutch mercenaries before being liberated by pro-royalist forces arriving in speedboats and helicopters (including one chopper rumored to be piloted by a former James Bond body double).  The plotters were tried for treason under Sealandic law.  The U.K. rebuffed requests by West Germany and the Netherlands to intervene on behalf of their citizens, citing the 1968 decision.  So Bonn and Amsterdam sent their own diplomats to Sealand to petition Prince Roy for their release.  The website of Achenbach’s rival republican Sealandic government-in-exile in Germany displays stylized swastikas and refers to a free-energy device using vril, a reference to the vitalist essence invented by the Rosicrucian novelist Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton for his 1872 hollow-earth science fiction tale The Coming Race, which strongly influenced the occultic Ariosophy religion to which Adolf Hitler and his inner circle subscribed.  Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

But it may not require any loopholes in international law if the U.K. wanted to shut down servers based in Sealand.  Assange and Prince Michael seem to have overlooked one thing: in 1987, the U.K. extended its territorial waters from 3 miles offshore to 10 miles offshore, putting Sealand squarely in British territorial waters.  This may be the provocation that prompts London to slap a coda onto the Sealandic saga once and for all.

[You can read more about Sealand and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

1 comment:

  1. I should just like to point out that the day before the UK announced its 12 mile extension to territorial waters, Sealand extended ITS exclusion zone by the same amount, thus pre-empting the UK statement.


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