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Who Do You Trust More With Your Data: Sea Pirates or the NSA?

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It really is sad that this is a legitimate question. With each day bringing a new revelation about the National Security Agency's data collection activities, such as yesterday's that the NSA was spying on the United Nations, it really does seem that there is no end to this rabbit hole (red pill or blue pill? How much do clothes cost in the Matrix? Is any of this real? Ahhh!).

The only safe assumption is this: the NSA has copies of everything you do, and everything you say, especially when those activities are conducted online. If you do have something to hide, need to protect clients, or you simply value your privacy, would you then be tempted to store your data offshore, with a bunch of pirates?

The Principality of Sealand -- A Hilarious Micronation

What do you get when you mix an abandoned British anti-aircraft platform and an "eccentric" former British Army Major turned pirate radio operator? A sovereign nation, of course. The Principality of Sealand is a micronation that was founded after Roy Bates stormed the base of a rival pirate radio station, cited some legal principle of "dereliction of sovereignty," was ignored by the British government, and hung up a flag.

Forty-six or so years later, the Principality still stands, despite an attempted coup (including a kidnapping and a helicopter-mounted retaking by the Bates family).

HavenCo - Failed, Deceased, Reincarnated

One of the hot start-up ideas of the last dot com era was HavenCo, a data haven that would be hosted on Sealand, free from the clutches and regulations of oppressive nations (such as ours). According to Mother Jones, the insane plans included guards armed with .50 caliber guns, mines, and self-destructing servers, and were drawn up by a pair of brilliant cypherpunk dropouts.

For reasons unknown, and unimportant, the $1 million start-up failed. One of the founders left, and after a dispute over a bootleg DVD service, the other was bought out by the Bates family. After a few years, the website disappeared off the Internet, and the company was no more.

Until now. A few months ago, internet entrepreneur Avi Freedman, one of the original financiers of HavenCo, received an email from the Prince of Sealand (Bates' son). The Bates, and now Freeman, wanted to try again.

This time, however, there will reportedly be no armed guards or hidden explosives. Instead, servers will be heavily encrypted, operated via virtual private networks, and most importantly, be located inside the United States. The encryption keys, however, will be located offshore, and offline, at Sealand. Should any governments come for the keys, they can be dumped, literally or virtually, before anyone arrives via boat or helicopter. Their website has even relaunched.

Pirates and Privacy?

So again, we ask, who do you trust more -- pirates or the National Security Agency? For some organizations, such as Wikileaks, that question is simple. But for you, is your privacy worth the loss of convenience, and the likely high cost, of dealing with an offshore data haven?

The answer, for most of us, is almost certainly no, but isn't it enough that we have to think before responding?

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