LONDON –The nation’s domain once spanned the seven seas until it was said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” After World War II, this Empire became the British Commonwealth, which still continues to grow in power to this day. Now, a new high-tech phenomenon called Sealand — a sovereign principality off the shores of the UK — threatens to change the very definitions of “sovereignty” and “empire.”

What is Sealand? It is a concrete fortress built in 1940 as a part of the British Empire’s air-defense infrastructure. The fortress was known as Roughs Tower. It rests in the North Sea, 9.6 kilometers, or six miles, offshore. During World War II, troops shot down Nazi bombers from their posts on Sealand.

Rather than enemy aircraft, the residents of Sealand are now battling national governments who refuse to recognize their home as a sovereign entity.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told WorldNetDaily, “The UK does not recognize Sealand as an independent state and we believe no other country does either.”

Sealand’s “ruler,” Roy Bates, a former British army major and pirate radio station operator, begs to differ. He purchased Sealand in the 1960s. In 1967, Bates changed his name to “Prince Roy of Sealand” and hoisted his own flag over the offshore fortress. That was a time when the idea of the Internet was only a glimmer in the eye of the Pentagon. Yet, the forward-thinking Bates realized the potential of Sealand and now is ready to turn his own “nation” into the world’s first “data haven.”

Due to the power — for good or ill — that could be wielded from within the borders of Sealand, Prince Roy and his island cyber sanctuary have caught the attention of the British government and military at the very highest levels.

Those who climb down a U-boat-style ladder and enter Sealand’s submerged control room will be in a unique position to conduct cyber commerce. Pirate e-communication links from Sealand will be free of government surveillance in the fields of international banking and Web domains. Prince Roy has already promised Tibet’s government in exile a base to set up cyber communications — much to the anger of the British Blair regime and communist China. Already, legendary hacking group the Hong Kong Blondes, as well as an offshoot group, the Laurie Holden Hackers, are salivating over the opportunity which a base like Sealand — with its state-of-the-art encryption systems — might afford them.

International bankers, online casino gambling and other businesses will be able to utilize Sealand’s unique status as a sovereign entity free of British, European Union and United Nations regulations. In fact, almost anything will pass muster on Sealand’s communication lines — except child pornography and bulk e-mail.

Says Tracey Kinchen, a former MI-6 (British intelligence) field agent and leader of the Thailand-based Laurie Holden Hackers: “The British government tried to reclaim Sealand back in 1968, the year I was born, so it’s very easy for me to remember. They wouldn’t have tried to bring Sealand back under its wing unless they coveted it for themselves. They feared what Sealand might one day become. It is a totalitarian’s worst nightmare. It may well also be the wave of the future.”

Field agents from MI-6, the Mossad and the British military based in Cyprus all told WorldNetDaily that Sealand offers tremendous advantages in the field of cyber communications and banking. A few agents expressed concern that Sealand could be taken over by, or used by, terrorists or transnational criminals.

“When I contacted HavenCo [the company handling Sealand’s Internet outreach], they told me that a business can buy a host computer server for about ?6,000 — that’s the high-end fee. Then there is a monthly rental fee of about ?1,000,” Kinchen told WorldNetDaily.

“In my opinion, it seems quite reasonable. Although, if other ‘Sealands’ start springing up off of Australia or Cyprus, they may have to drop their prices a bit. In general, I am frightfully optimistic that Sealand will, in fact, succeed.”

If you think that the British government can send in the military to take down Sealand, think again. Sealand rests some 4.8 kilometers beyond the UK’s territorial waters. It is run by an experienced military officer, and it is no easy target. It was, after all, designed for warfare.

Says Prince Roy, “The British forces won’t come against me. I’m an ex-soldier and did a lot of service in hard times. I’m an Englishman, and my family are English. We wouldn’t do anything to harm England in the slightest way. We might do things they don’t like too much, but that is only because we believe in freedom.”

According to Sealand’s operators, it claims territorial waters of 12.5 nautical miles in all directions, except where that overlaps the territorial waters claimed by its nearest neighbor, Britain, in which case it claims half the distance to the British shore.

Sealand has its own flag, passports, stamps and currency, which, as one might expect, is pegged to the U.S. dollar. Sealand’s passports are in great demand and have been forged by criminals. In 1968, a British court fully vindicated Sealand’s claim to independence by ruling that British authorities have no jurisdiction in Sealand, since it sits 4.8 kilometers outside of the UK’s territorial waters. Germany once sent a diplomat to negotiate directly with the Prince of Sealand for the release of a German criminal being held in a Sealand prison.

Several members of the British military and the international intelligence agency MI-6 told WorldNetDaily that the government is keeping an eye on Sealand, for it may “represent a trend of the future — sovereign individuals creating their own de facto nation-state.”

Prince Roy likes to point out that his nation lies only 65 to 100 miles from the coasts of France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Within a radius of 500 miles of Sealand live more than 200 million people who enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world. This area also encompasses the financial, industrial and cultural heart of Europe.

Few outsiders get to visit Sealand — even paying customers. It is well-stocked to survive a siege. Even MI-6 and MI-5 have been unable to gather up-to-date intelligence on the fortress.

With this in mind, as one might expect, Prince Roy is not alone in this venture. HavenCo, registered in Antigua, has agreed to help launch the Prince’s dream of a virtual nation/state and data haven. HavenCo purchased Sealand and set up its computer infrastructure.

Says HavenCo spokesman Bill Scannell, “We are the first place on Earth where people are free to conduct business without someone looking over their shoulder.” To HavenCo, free communication in and of itself “can never be a crime, and by itself, it never hurt anyone.”

American Internet maverick Sean Hastings, who now lives on the Sealand fortress, created HavenCo.

According to HavenCo’s official literature:

“As the security of sensitive data over public networks grows in importance, businesses, governments and organizations worldwide are realizing the need for a suitable facility from which to host their eCommerce, financial transactions, B2B and e-mail servers, as well as sensitive data backups. A large part of a server’s physical security is dependent upon the political system of the country in which the server is located. We will be providing the business structure in the world’s first free-market location.

“There are no direct reporting or registration requirements. HavenCo is working with the Royal Family of Sealand to phase in abundant bandwidth with extreme reliability. It is very difficult to run businesses which require very high reliability, high-quality infrastructure without regulatory hindrances. Businesses that require high quality eCommerce infrastructure face a significant burden in costs imposed by taxation and regulatory compliance. This prevents many businesses from forming in the first place, and limits the chances of success for those that do start up. HavenCo will answer the infrastructure vs. freedom question in a fundamentally new way, applying novel technology, a unique physical location and a world-class team. We will provide business with better quality infrastructure than ever before, allowing eCommerce operations the luxury of an environment free of unnecessary bureaucracy, and at a lower total cost than anywhere else.”

HavenCo believes that it can provide services for transaction-oriented businesses, such as eCommerce servers — where the integrity of sensitive data is key — and critical business infrastructure such as Application Service Providers. Security-dependent businesses and network-centric information processing businesses are also potential clients of HavenCo.

Says Prince Roy: “Sealand could accomplish more if it had a greater level of world recognition. If you are part of a recognized national government, or know someone who is, we are interested in talking to other nations about the benefits of mutual recognition. Even if you have no such connections, you can help just by spreading accurate knowledge about Sealand. Governments and borders only exist in people’s minds, and the more people who know that Sealand is a real place with real people and a real right to independence, the less Sealand will remain just a strange legal curiosity, and the more it will become a real world nation.”

Last fall, the British Parliament passed new legislation to grant itself increasingly dictatorial powers over the Internet. For now, however, Sealand remains out of the legal reach of Britain and her Commonwealth. But Bates’ fortress is not out of the reach of 6 billion other citizens of the world who may wish to utilize her services. Sealand is preparing fiber-optic connections in Holland and the UK to stop either of those nations from closing down its Internet data transmission.

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, an Internet entrepreneur may set up a song-swapping service on Sealand, hoping to replace the legally dogged Napster. Outside the long arm of record labels’ attorneys, the new service could provide a foolproof way for music lovers to obtain copyrighted material online.

Says Kinchen: “When people in the intelligence community criticize Maj. Bates, I tell them, ‘Do shut up! Sealand has offered Tibet Online completely free service.’ That’s incredibly patriotic in my worldview, considering the shameful pro-China stance of the Blair government and the European Union. If Mr. Bates continues to help groups like the Tibet government in exile, he might become a real Prince after all — at least in my eyes.”

Related stories:

The Beijing hack attack

Thai hackers claim responsibility

China’s high-tech war games

Hackers warn of encryption ‘beast’

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