Those of you who know my writing on matters of Internet law and jurisdiction will understand why I like this little item. The folks over at wikileaks.org* have put together what sounds like a reasonably serious proposal to prepare a jurisdictional “safe haven” for information on the global network, a set of highly-protective laws for anonymity protection, free expression, immunities for information providers, and the like for those who make information available on the net, and it appears that they have some serious supporters in Iceland who are interested in trying to put this into place via legislation. An “offshore publication center,” or a “Switzerland for bits,” they’re calling it (not quite the right metaphor, imho; more like the “Cayman Islands” for the net).
This idea – which I’ve been talking and writing about for a long time — was discredited many years ago by the “Sealand” operation, a bunch of “pirate radio” operators from the UK who set up on an abandoned oil platform in the North Sea, declared their independence from the UK, and offered up their servers to anyone who wished to reach the global Internet, completely free of any interference from pesky legal strictures like “law” or “regulation.” It didn’t last too long – the UK ultimately cut the trunk line feeding the offshore platform, ending their ability to transmit information over the Net. But it lasted long enough to serve as a good straw man for everyone who wanted to argue that the Net wasn’t as unregulable as it seemed to be. “Look at what happened to Sealand!” But this wikileaks proposal for Iceland looks a lot more promising – I have no particular reason to think that it will, in fact, succeed, but at least it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. One can even imagine this providing a not-inconsiderable revenue stream for a country that was pretty badly battered by the recent crisis — if you don’t think so, think about what Delaware has managed to accomplish, revenue-wise, just by offering itself as the go-to place for corporate registration; if Iceland were to offer information providers substantial protections that they could operate free from threats of exposure or liability, my guess is that people will pay something for that, and things have a way of adding up quickly on the net.
[Thanks to JL Dunn for the pointer]
[*If you’re not familiar with wikileaks.org, you should be; they are, in the words of their wikipedia entry, “a website that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents, while attempting to preserve the anonymity and untraceability of its contributors. Within one year of its December 2006 launch, its database had grown to more than 1.2 million documents, leading to many front-page newspaper articles and political reforms.” They’ve performed an enormously valuable public function over the years — and are now, as you can see if you go to their website, in dire financial straits, and seeking donations. A worthy cause.]