Netizens will now be able to determine if a Web page they are trying to access is missing because of a technical malfunction, insufficient access privileges, a lost page or mistyped a URL, and now also if the website has been censored by the government.
The newly approved error code 451 was proposed and championed by Tim Bray, a former Google engineer and XML specification author. It was inspired by the Ray Bradbury novel, "Fahrenheit 451," which delved into issues of book burning in order to prevent free thought.
The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) approved the use of the new error code today with much support from experts in the online community so that government censorship on the internet could be better monitored.
According to the suggestions made by Bray back in 2012 with the proposed 451 code, the website that has been censored must provide an explanation as to why it has been blocked by the government.
Mark Nottingham, one of the chairs for Internet Engineering Task Force, was one of those who was initially resistant to Bray's error code 451 suggestion. He explained that the limited number of 4xx numbers for error codes was one of the reasons, as well as the reasoning that other error codes already exist which come into the scope of forbidden access.
In the past, when websites such as The Pirate Bay were blocked by the British government, the error code 403: Forbidden would be displayed. But Bray explained that this code was not enough to sufficiently explain that the website was being censored from the public by their own government. He felt that citizens should be given an explanation as to why certain content is being blocked.
Nottingham acknowledged that he converted to approve of the Bradbury-inspired Error 451 as they began testing it on sites and support for its use grew.
But even though the new code to indicate government censorship has finally been approved, the IESG cannot guarantee that all governments and ISP's will enforce its use. However, Nottingham says that this in itself is a good indicator that the approval of the new error code was the right route to take.
"In some jurisdictions, I suspect that censorious governments will disallow the use of 451, to hide what they're doing. We can't stop that (of course), but if your government does that, it sends a strong message to you as a citizen about what their intent is. That's worth knowing about, I think," he said.