Previously, I attempted to demonstrate how the US uses the convenience offered by the cloud’s centralization of data to relax the legal constraints on surveillance and evidence-gathering. But can an organization exploit the same unique properties of a cloud service to escape the jurisdiction of any single sovereign? This question may sound ridiculous at first, but I would argue that it is entirely plausible.
This notion of escaping jurisdiction is exactly where the cloud becomes a political tool. As was stated in part I, the cloud represents a move towards centralization. If a cloud can be set up in neutral territory, then it follows that the data and services offered by such a cloud would be free from any other sovereign. In a way, this setup would appear to formulate its own type of sovereignty. While the US maintains an astounding amount of control over the open internet, here one can begin to see how the situation can be reconfigured to turn the power dynamic on its head.
Some previous attempts have in fact been made at establishing this strange new kind of sovereignty. Although mostly unsuccessful, these attempts demonstrate that a political reconfiguration of the network might be on the horizon. The Principality of Sealand is one such example. Sealand, located six miles off the coast of Britain in the North Sea, is an abandoned military base that has been somewhat of an experimental country since 1967. In the early 2000s, a startup by the name of HavenCo rooted themselves at Sealand and began offering their services as a “data haven”: an offshore data hosting option free from any particular jurisdiction due to its physical placement in international waters. HavenCo would go on to be outcompeted by the lower prices of ‘normal’ data centers, but it remains an interesting experiment on the function of sovereignty both on and off the internet.
Perhaps a better example is Wikileaks. Wikileaks claims to be “uncensorable” by any single government due to its unique hosting configuration. Unlike the Sealand data haven, which attempted sovereignty by setting up outside of any jurisdiction, Wikileaks uses the different jurisdictions of multiple governments to its own advantage. The wikileaks servers, distributed across various countries, keep copies of the same materials so that if one server is silenced, the information remains accessible through an alternate access point. The capacity of this system to resist censorship was tested in 2009 when a loan book of the then-bankrupt Kaupthing Bank was published to the Wikileaks site. Although a Reykjavik court issued a gag order on Wikileak’s icelandic web host, they were able to evade it by hosting the information in multiple other jurisdictions whose laws actually protected the document from being taken down.
Both Sealand and Wikileaks are interesting because they exist as a political contradiction of sorts. They cleverly inhabit a space in which the borders of jurisdiction either break down or overlap. By doing so, both subvert systems of power already in place and highlight its faults. If anything, Sealand and Wikileaks show us that current political structures are unequipped to deal with the cloud properly, and that changing this might take a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between the state, the individual, and the network.