Website error codes may soon alert users to government censorship

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I’m sure we’re all familiar with the loathsome 404 error that explains to us how the webpage we were looking for wasn’t found, but it never tells us why the webpage wasn’t found, which is something that man by the name of Tim Bray wants to fix. Bray, who is a co-author of the XML specification, wants web developers to start adopting the 451 error code, which will allow websites to alert users when the part of the website that they’re trying to access has been restricted due to legal reasons, with the 451 number being a reference to Fahrenheit 451.

The internet might be available worldwide, but varying legal systems in different countries often lead to sites being blocked or filtered for reasons that aren’t always clear. A new internet error code aims to solve the lack of transparency associated with censorship and legal obstacles. If you’re browsing the web today and reach a 404 error that typically means the page you were looking for wasn’t found. A new 451 error code is designed to notify you that content has been blocked. Tim Bray, a co-author of the XML specification, wants web developers to adopt error code 451 (a nod to Fahrenheit 451) to let websites warn you that you can’t access a site or a piece of content for legal reasons. The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) has approved the initial suggestion, allowing developers to start implementing it ahead of “a few more process bits,” according to Mark Nottingham, chairman of the IETF HTTP Working Group.

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