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A retired British Army major is planning to offer refuge to companies sick of government meddling in the Web.

Roy Bates and his family have lived on the concrete fortress of Sealand - moored six miles off the Essex coast - since 1967. The Sealand platform, originally built to keep the Germans out during WW2, was declared a sovereign state by Bates in 1975 and boasts its own passports, currency and constitution.

Now a squad of US entrepreneurs think Sealand could be a useful safe haven for evading increasing governmental controls on the Web - such as the imminent Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill.

For a one-off fee of around 6,600, plus 1,000 rent per month, Sealand is offering to be a pirate state where the Internet is concerned. But HavenCo, the US company jointly running this Radio Caroline-esque venture, says it will ban child pornographers, spammers or hackers from the island.

This week the Home Office tried to scupper the plans, saying the UK did not recognise Sealand as an independent state. The island would therefore have no immunity to Internet legislation such as RIP, which aims to fit all ISPs in the UK with interceptory devices by the end of the year.

But Bates and his son Michael, who apparently describe themselves as "princes" and have fought off several attacks on their sovereignty, do not scare easy.

They have already countered a kidnap attempt on Michael, fired warning shots at the Royal Navy when they got too close, and binned an offer from Argentina to buy their home during the Falklands war. ®

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