Truth In Erroring: IETF Proposal Includes New 451 Censorship Error Code
from the it'll-probably-be-nixed-by-the-Bradbury-estate dept
As nations around the world work to chip away at the liberated internet for such compelling reasons as “um, children!”, or “um, cyberwar!”, or even “um, piracy!”, all while lambasting other countries for censorship mind you, the general population may still be shrugging their shoulders in confusion. One reason for that may be a lack of an in-your-face approach to educating people as to what all this proposed policy may mean in their lives, which have only become more reliant on a functioning internet.
That's where internet developer advocate Tim Bray comes in. Business Week has the story of Bray's proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force to add a new error code for websites: the 451 Censorship Code. You can read Bray's formal proposal here, but the short version is that any site that is unreachable due to legal reasons (normally because of ISP blocking, but not always), would return a 451 error along with a short explanation as to why the connection was blocked. So, for instance, if an ISP decided to block The Pirate Bay, you would get the 451 error along with an explanation that copyright fights were preventing the traffic (or something like that). The 451 code, of course, is an homage to Ray Bradbury's “Fahrenheit 451,” a book that most people think is about censorship, but Bradbury insists is just about how everything you love sucks, including the internet.
Many of you may have seen this circulated in June, but Bray is now saying that it will go before the IETF beginning this weekend:
“I've been told by the chair of the IETF HTTP Working Group that he'll give the proposal some agenda time at the next IETF meeting,” Bray told CNNMoney by email. “It's not a big proposal; shouldn't take long.”
When asked why he felt compelled to put this proposal together, Bray pointed to Terrance Eden (a UK blogger) who had put a call out for a censorship code after having a connection to The Pirate Bay blocked and receiving a common 403 error:
“Eden's Internet provider had been ordered to block out the site, but Eden wasn't happy with the 403 error response it generated.
'As far as I am concerned, this response is factually incorrect,' Eden wrote on his blog.”
That's because a 403 error is what you get when the server you're connecting to won't let you in. But that isn't what's happening in Eden's case. Eden's ISP is blocking the connection. That's a distinction that should matter to the consumer, who ought to be properly informed of who is keeping them from going where they want on the internet.
And that's Bray's point. It's not that traffic should never be blocked, but the user should know what's actually going on. As he says himself:
“I think most people agree that censorship is sometimes justified, but it's just common sense that when it happens, it should happen out in the open.”