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Crypto utopia Sealand ravaged by fire

Autonomous zone now vacant

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Fire has damaged a World War II gun emplacement seven miles off the English coast. Better known as "Sealand", the fort was acquired in the 1960s by Roy Bates, who declared it an independent principality.

One man was airlifted from the platform after fire broke out in the generator room on Friday. Eyewitnesses reported heavy damage, and the blaze was left to burn itself out.

A public statement from the Sealand government said: "Due to a fire in the generation facility of the Fortress structure it has been necessary temporarily to evacuate all civilian residents to alternative accommodation as a matter of safety. This situation is expected to continue for the next 96 hours, and an update will be issued within this time."

When Bates purchased the fort, UK sovereignty extended to structures only three miles from the shoreline. This has since changed, bringing Sealand within UK jurisdiction, and the principality remains unrecognised by any other state or international treaty organisation.

But in recent years the ambiguity of Sealand's status prompted one of the more fascinating experiments in technological utopias.

Bates' son Michael - Prince Michael of Sealand - blessed an experiment to create a crypto data haven on the fort, and became head of the operating company HavenCo in June 2000.

To the dismay of investors and cypherpunks, the venture wasn't a success. Ryan Lackey had moved to the fort in 1999, hoping to establish a safe location for privacy services such as anonymous remailers, and experiments such as anonymous digital cash. [July 2000 Slashdot Q&A]

In a presentation to the 2003 DefCon convention, a former employee described how internal politics and a lack of investment backing had thwarted the experiment. Contracts were broken, the bandwidth never materialised, and the location was vulnerable to DOS attacks. At the time of his 2003 presentation, HavenCo had no new customers, and had seen several of its existing customers leave.

"Sovereignty alone has little value without commercial support from banks, etc," concluded Ryan. Inviting us draw our own conclusions as to where the real sovereign power lies. Banks don't like cash they can't count or control. ®

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