NET NEWS: Data Hideaway

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Science  23 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5474, pp. 2091
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5474.2091c

Worried that government snoopers can eavesdrop on your e-mail or Web browsings? If it's absolute privacy you seek, soon you can rent a server housed on a rusting hunk of metal and concrete in the North Sea that's billed as “the world's most secure” data haven.

The new data bunker is Sealand, a former World War II British navy fortress 10 kilometers off eastern England. In 1967, the abandoned gun tower was taken over by a family who then claimed that a British court decision made it sovereign territory. Now Sealand's cash-strapped royals have hitched up with HavenCo, started by several U.S. techies. The company, which opens 1 September, will offer Internet servers that are “subpoena-free … there are no laws about storage or transmission,” says spokesperson Bill Scannell. Only spam, child porn, and Internet attacks are off limits. Scannell expects customers willing to fork over $500 to $5000 per month for a server will include banks, e-commerce companies, and “individuals who just feel like being left alone.” To avoid sabotage, HavenCo is installing multiple Internet links—fiber-optic cable, microwave, and satellite—all sending encrypted data, of course.

The plan has its skeptics. If governments really need to get into HavenCo's servers, to investigate money laundering or terrorism, for example, they could invoke international law enforcement treaties, suggests Don Heath, president of the Internet Society in Reston, Virginia. “I think these data havens are going to be short-lived,” he says. But “if nothing else, it will show people are serious about wanting privacy.”

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