Morals, data havens and MGM

A few weeks ago I wrote about data havens, facilities where data can be stored and distributed not only securely but also, in some cases, with few legal restrictions.

One player in this market was Havenco, a company based on the curious “country” of Sealand. Reader Bill Stewart wrote to tell me that Havenco is apparently no longer quite as much a data haven as it was.

It turns out that after Sept. 11 and the hideous Digital Millennium Copyright Act becoming law, the royal family of Sealand along with the family’s legal adviser got nervous and decided that they weren’t going to push their luck when it came to Havenco’s operations.

The Sealand government apparently made it clear that should an entity of some importance (say the government of the U.K.) ask for access to data Havenco was storing, they could have it.

This underlines the issue for the freewheeling data havens of the Havenco kind: They have no real muscle. As much as we and Sealand might like to think that the law would defend our rights, the fact is that when a government or even a large corporation decides that something is broken and needs fixing, it’s might, not right, that will prevail.

What concerns many people is how to defend ourselves from that most difficult and devious of foes: The government that wants an ever-increasing level of insight into who we are and what we do.

Well, the fact is that the people who need the defences originally promised by Havenco weren’t you and me. There were arguably two groups: organizations looking to hide their activities that were either illegal or nearly so, and pornographers.

The problem for the likes of Havenco is that when it comes to the content stored on behalf of your clients you can’t hide behind a position of moral neutrality.

From your feedback it seems that opinion was evenly divided on whether data havens are good or bad. I think they are a bad thing that cannot be justified unless you can defend moral neutrality.

Morals were also on readers’ minds when it came to a recent discussion of MGM’s lawsuit against Grokster. Reader Michael Lester wrote: “If I understand this right, MGM believes that companies that make products that can be misused should be sued. Does that mean MGM should be sued if they make an R rated film that is viewed by underaged children? Sure, they can’t control everything about how the movie is viewed, but they still should be held responsible!”

Reader Roger Philipps notes: “Your extended suit scenario might be rather interesting since Sony is one of the biggest entertainment companies as well as a purveyor of almost all the electronic evils mentioned as tools of piracy. They might change sides faster than an Afghani warlord if that happened.”

Are you in a moral quandary? Tell and don’t forget Gearblog .

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