The need (or not) for data havens

Network World (U.S.) recently ran a story concerning a slightly eccentric couple, Don and Charlene Zwonitzer, who purchased a 1960s-era Atlas E Missile Silo and converted it “into home sweet home — and eventually, they hope, a modern-day computer disaster-recovery facility.”

The idea makes a lot of sense. This building is 20,000 square feet, has two-foot-thick walls and ceilings constructed from 139,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 27,840 tons of structural steel, and can withstand a one-megaton blast up to 1.6 miles away. Sounds cozy for a disaster-recovery facility.

Not that setting up such a service is easy. A company called Underground Secure Data Center Operations (USDCO) opened its subterranean doors in July 2001 in a disused gypsum mine near Grand Rapids, Mich. It seems local zoning laws subsequently conspired to shut down the company sometime in 2003.

Of course, we’re talking about facilities on U.S. soil. While they might be disaster-proof, they wouldn’t meet the criteria for organizations that would like both disaster resistance and real privacy.

For that kind of service, you’ll have to go to somewhere like Sealand. Sealand is a reclaimed World War II British artificial island fortress a few miles off the English coast. With a surface area roughly equal to that of a basketball court, Sealand is a real country complete with passports and stamps.

Sealand’s history is an extraordinary story of brave, but loosely wrapped people.

Roy Bates, the “crown prince” of Sealand, sailed out to the platform in 1966 and claimed it as an independent nation. The British government wasn’t too keen on this and tried to kick the Bates Royal Family off the platform, but the law, it turns out, was on the side of Crown Prince Roy.

It is from this platform that HavenCo, a data warehousing operation registered in Anguilla, operates.

HavenCo boasts “Unsurpassed physical security from the world” and immunity from “government subpoenas (as well as) search and seizures of equipment and data.”

So if you want to store your data somewhere that’s potentially as physically and legally secure as can be, HavenCo might be the place.

HavenCo says: “Sealand currently has no regulations regarding copyright, patents, libel, restrictions on political speech, non-disclosure agreements, cryptography, restrictions on maintaining customer records, tax or mandatory licensing, (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), music sharing services, or other issues; child pornography is the only content explicitly prohibited.”

HavenCo also prohibits spamming. So running non-regulated gambling operations, money laundering, and all sorts of interesting activities could be legally, by Sealand’s laws, going on.

This raises interesting issues for Sealand and HavenCo should any major governments take objection to what HavenCo’s customers might be up to.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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