New HTTP status code to reveal web censorship

As there is a “status code” for any possible issue or outcome with an HTTP connection attempt, so there should be one more code for revealing web censorship enforced by the local authorities. The idea comes from Tim Bray, co-creator of the XML markup language and now Developer Advocate at Google.

Bray proposed his “censorship error code” idea in a draft submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an organization devoted to developing and promoting Internet standards in close cooperation with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and other standard regulation groups.

The draft describes the new “Unavailable For Legal Reasons” status code 451 – a clear homage to the well-known dystopian novel by recently deceased writer Ray Bradbury – where the code “indicates that the server is subject to legal restrictions which prevent it servicing the request”.

The 451 error code “should” include an explanation with a clear indication of what law the censored site would infringe in the user’s own country, the draft says. Furthermore, the new HTTP status “implies neither the existence nor non-existence of the resource named in the request”, ie. the server or the web resource could be unavailable even outside of the fence.

Of course Tim Bray is aware of the fact that some censorship-loving government or country would like to hide not only the blocked resource, but the simple fact that something is censored as well: “the 451 status code is optional”, the draft says, “clients cannot rely upon its use” because “certain legal authorities may wish to avoid transparency” in every way they can.

Source: The H Open Source.

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14 Comments

@Kevin:
My bad! Forgot about that one.

rfirth said,

Child pornography?

Uhm... Yes . Clearly didn't think well that first post...

rfirth said,

Child pornography?

Censorship is a slippery slope often advocated for the protection of children, then later repurposed for copyright infringement, bog standard porn, political dissension, and more. The road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say.

It's not like it's hard to circumvent anyway. A VPN, TOR, HTTP Proxy, the list goes on.

rfirth said,

Child pornography?

For those people, I shall rephrase that, for those SICK Minded People who like KP I agree with the code. I haven't a problem with this at all. Although, it is a bit of a grey area.

SOOPRcow said,
As far as I'm concerned adding a HTTP status code for censorship means you support censorship.

It's just an error code. And error codes provide knowledge, knowledge empowers people and the more people realise the site they can't access is being censored the more likely they are to discuss it and hopefully challenge such censorship. For these reasons I think an identifier is a good idea, after all it is just a code it doesn't facilitate or help censorship it isn't a technique to censor just a way to notify.

SOOPRcow said,
As far as I'm concerned adding a HTTP status code for censorship means you support censorship.

Really? I find it more indicative of the desire to warn people of the use of censorship. Pretending it doesn't happen doesn't make it go away, but being aware of it's existence can

Sraf said,

Really? I find it more indicative of the desire to warn people of the use of censorship. Pretending it doesn't happen doesn't make it go away, but being aware of it's existence can

Agreed. Adding an HTTP status code for censorship is actually anti-censorship. This is also why it's optional, unfortunately. The governments you really have to worry about won't support it.

The Chinese government would rather return ERROR 404 than ERROR 451 on searches for "tank man" and "tiananmen square massacre"...

pure hipocrisy

w3c is filled with people that don't follow the standard (example Chrome) but still want to add new rules to the mess.

and btw, html5 is still a draft.

anyone linking censorship to child pornography, sounds like a media spin doctor. (at least here in Australia the land of the backward) I'm sick to death of hearing about censorship and what have you got to hide? well the people asking those questions are more likely to be the ones committing the more heinous crimes. obvious or not....

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