Offshore ‘pirates’ defy UK e-commerce laws

An island fortress off the Suffolk coast has hoisted the Jolly Roger against the UK government by offering itself as a haven for dot.coms seeking to avoid controversial e-commerce laws such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill.

In a ploy reminiscent of the pirate radio ships that operated off the UK’s coastline in the 1960s and 1970s, owners of Sealand claim that their island is an independent state and therefore exempt from UK law.

The owners have set themselves up as a facility for companies that want to operate websites, or store electronic data, unfettered by controls.

The island is offering what it describes as ‘near unregulated’ internet trading for an initial outlay of $10,000 and $1,500 a month service charges.

Among the few activities that will be prohibited are child pornography, spamming and hacking. Otherwise, claims Sealand, customers will be able to operate websites exempt from taxation or any regulatory powers, including those enshrined in the RIP Bill currently going through Parliament.

Companies will also be able to store electronic files and databases free of interference by the Data Protection Registrar, said those behind the venture.

Sealand’s ‘Prince’ Roy Bates – who first occupied the fortress of Felixstowe in 1967 – says he has joined forces with a another offshore venture, Anguilla-based HavenCo, to market his services over the internet.

However, the Home Office has already reacted, saying that it does not recognise Sealand’s purported independence. It insists that any company basing its website or servers there will still be subject to UK law, echoing a similar declaration by the Inland Revenue which recently warned that any UK company running ecommerce ventures in offshore havens would remain liable for corporation tax at home.

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