Error code would warn of web censorship

Google developer proposes HTTP Error Code 451 to indicate content censored by authorities

A high-profile Google developer has proposed that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that it endorse a new HTTP Status Code to warn readers the page they're looking for has been censored by authorities, according to TheVerge.

Tim Bray, who co-invented XML and works as Android Developer Advocate at Google, is submitting a proposal that pages censored by someone other than the owner of the site or of the user's local network display the error code"451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons."

The number in the code is a reference to Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451," which describes a dystopian future in which bookburnings and the censorship of unacceptable material is routine.

The suggestion has already provoked disagreement in discussion forums in which some users complain the code would be applied haphazardly, according to subjective definitions of censorship, and that it doesn't differentiate between legal reasons to ban content (copyright violation for example) and "bad" censorship aimed at silencing political or commercial opponents.

Bray's draft, which the IETF can choose to accept for discussion or not, calls for site owners to extend the error code to include some details about why the page is unavailable – including what legal authority ordered the site to be made unavailable and what kind of content is being forbidden.

U.S. authorities seizing web sites to charge the owners with content piracy typically insert a notice with a prominent Dept. of Homeland Security logo warning that the site had been seized as part of a criminal investigation.

Other error codes indicate pages are unavailable for various reasons, but don't specifically list government censorship or other legal restrictions. HTTP Error Code 403 indicates the server understood an HTTP request and declined to fill it, usually because it requires a password or other certification of the user's identity.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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