Google Sets Sail: Ocean-Based Server Farms and International Law
Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 43, p. 709, 2011
43 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2011
Date Written: February 1, 2011
In recent years, the oceans have become a venue for nontraditional uses such as rocket launches, fish farming, and energy production. In 2009, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Google a patent for an ocean-based server farm, powered and cooled by the seas’ wind and water. A server farm is simply a collection of computers joined together on a network providing services to remotely connected users. Google argued that the transportability of these server ships would allow easy movement to world regions where such services are needed. In addition, the data center ship would provide a relatively green alternative to power-hungry server farms located on land.
If these massive server farms populate the oceans, what regulatory schemes will apply? The server ship’s owner may understandably seek the ability to avoid national exercises of jurisdiction. Internet theorists have traditionally resisted state jurisdiction, arguing that cyberspace should provide its own norms. This early view has recently been undercut by successful state exercises of control over various Internet players and the development of new technology allowing geographic segmentation of Internet content and use.
This Article will consider and evaluate international law’s probable application to state jurisdiction over these server ships and other innovative technologies just beyond view. It argues that the international community should resist additional abridgements of high seas freedoms to address issues relating to server ships or other new maritime uses, absent a compelling international need for additional regulation.
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