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New 451 Error Code Aims To Fight Censorship On The Web

New 451 Error Code Aims To Fight Censorship On The Web
[Photo: Flickr user Richard Unten]

In Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian society burns books, effectively silencing its citizens through censorship.

The modern-day equivalent? Indecipherable error codes from censored web pages. That’s why Tim Bray, co-author of the XML specification, created error code 451, as The Verge reports. The homage to Bradbury’s 1953 novel is meant to distinguish web pages that have been blocked for legal reasons from pages that are unavailable for other reasons, which are marked by a generic 403 error that says “Forbidden.”

Bray submitted the draft for the code three years ago, but on Monday, it was approved by the Internet Engineering Steering Group. This means developers will soon be able to start using the codes, according to Mark Nottingham, chairman of the IETF HTTP Working Group.

Code 451 is a big step for transparency, but since it’s optional, it probably won’t be a final solution. As Bray tells The Verge, “It is imaginable that certain legal authorities may wish to avoid transparency, and not only forbid access to certain resources, but also disclosure that the restriction exists.”PCD