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The British Government could be about to be embroiled in a diplomatic farce that could have all the makings of a classic Ealing comedy.

The citizens of the Principality of Sealand - a man-made island off the east coast of England - are set to start the commercial operation of their offshore data sanctuary in a fortnight or so.

Run by an outfit called HavenCo, the secure managed colocation business has already signed up some customers, although for reasons of security, details of these have not been released. HavenCo will host servers in a secure environment ensuring that its customers' data is safe and secure away form prying eyes.

The security is not just physical - it is also partly due to the "independence" of Sealand and its political system.

Crucially, those behind Sealand claim their independence means they will be outside the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government and its email snooping laws.

Yet, this is disputed by the British Government. In a short statement, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Her Majesty's Government does not recognise the Principality of Sealand as a separate entity. Therefore it is governed by UK law."

A spokesman for the Home Office added: "As long as it complies with UK law we haven't got a problem."

Yet, a spokeswoman for HavenCo told Reg: "I would like to reiterate that Sealand is a sovereign nation. Up until midday on 5 June 2000, the position of the UK Home Office was that Sealand was not part of the UK.

"When the HavenCo/Sealand press broke on that day, they suddenly (and without grounds) reversed their position.

"Sealand has a very strong legal claim to being a sovereign state, and has been de facto recognised as such by England on numerous occasions," she said.

Which brings us back to where we started. Stalemate. Sealand has everything to gain - the British Government everything to lose. We look forward to watching this one develop. ®

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