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Censorship Government The Internet

"451" Error Will Tell Users When Governments Are Blocking Websites 255

Posted by timothy
from the captain-beatty-approves dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "To fend off the chilling effects of heavy-handed internet restriction, the UK consumer rights organization Open Rights Group wants to create a new version of the '404 Page Not Found' error message, called '451 unavailable,' to specify that a webpage wasn't simply not there, it was ordered to be blocked for legal reasons."
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"451" Error Will Tell Users When Governments Are Blocking Websites

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  • by allaunjsilverfox2 (882195) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:34PM (#44576667) Homepage Journal
    Until they block the 451 page and redirect it to a 404.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#44576765)

      Maybe we can have a contest for the most creative 451 pages. Who knows, maybe they can display personal information about you derived from your IP address, your cookies and even turn on your computer's camera. Ahhh, good times when you know the government isn;t just blocking the site, it's spying on those who tried to access it.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @04:05PM (#44577039) Journal

      Seems to me that issuing such an error code would already violate the gag order they routinely apply to these court orders.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I think you can define error 451 to mean "unknown reason", and then by process of deduction it must be due to government blockage.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Haha, "court order"!

        You naive believer in due process.

        Here in the UK, an unregulated quango called the Internet Watch Foundation can block anything it pleases with no judicial or even executive oversight whatsoever.

        • Here in the UK, an unregulated quango called the Internet Watch Foundation can block anything it pleases with no judicial or even executive oversight whatsoever.

          Only if your ISP implements it. I don't have a list of which ISPs do and don't, but it won't be hard to find.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Strange, when I disconnect from my VPN I get blocking message from Virgin Media, so it's not like they are hiding anything when the censor a website. Do you have any examples of websites silently blocked by court order?

    • by biek (1946790) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @05:42PM (#44577895)
      404a - Page does not exist. This error never happened.
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      I think that's an "Error 1984: 451 redirected to 404." 2+2=5

  • Already exists? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwn3d (2750695) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:38PM (#44576707)
    According to the Wikipedia article on HTTP status codes 451 already exists for exactly this reason. This doesn't seem new.
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:39PM (#44576713)

    They don't get it. The people who block your content in-line can send you back any page they choose, including a 404.

    • Re:woosh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Talennor (612270) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:43PM (#44576795) Journal

      Maybe you don't get it. It's not a solution, it's a protest.

    • Re:woosh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ksevio (865461) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:47PM (#44576843) Homepage
      Just because they're legally required to block the content, doesn't mean they agree with the block or want to do it. On the contrary, it would be more in the ISP's interest to show that they're being legally pushed to block the content rather than the content just appearing not to work.

      It's not the government in many of these cases that's doing the actual blocking, it's ISPs where the people that have to install the filters are your typical slashdotter.
      • Re:woosh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:52PM (#44576897) Journal

        By way of example, Youtube obviously complies with DMCA takedowns; because it would be ruinously risky not to; but they (sometimes to the displeasure of the takedown-demander) always note 'Video X has been removed because of a complaint from FooCorp Media'.

        Unless a company is an enthusiastic partner in the censorship scheme, it isn't in their interest for their customers to think that they've fucked up or are deeply unreliable when they are acting on a legal demand.

      • Re:woosh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lister king of smeg (2481612) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @04:02PM (#44577013)

        Just because they're legally required to block the content, doesn't mean they agree with the block or want to do it. On the contrary, it would be more in the ISP's interest to show that they're being legally pushed to block the content rather than the content just appearing not to work.

        It's not the government in many of these cases that's doing the actual blocking, it's ISPs where the people that have to install the filters are your typical slashdotter.

        Except when they receive a National Security Letter they are not allowed to tell and doing so can result in your life being ruined by the government.

    • Re:woosh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nanoda (591299) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:49PM (#44576869)

      They don't get it. The people who block your content in-line can send you back any page they choose, including a 404.

      Of course they can. The idea is that those doing the blocking have been forced to do so, and thus can use this alternate error page to distinguish these cases, and show their users how much of the internet they're missing due to government intervention.
      A standard 404 could be legitimate, and isn't going to help garner any group support for open-ness.

      • by Gothmolly (148874)

        And the same government people who demanded this can rewrite the 451 to a 404 on the fly, and your average user would have a hard time noticing anything funny about it.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Those government people probably can't connect to the net at all without their kids help. They would have to ask the ISPs to do the rewrite just like they had to ask the ISPs to handle the actual blocking. But to do that, they'd have to tacitly admit that there was an element of the dirty secret about what's being blocked.

        • Re:woosh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by blackest_k (761565) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:36PM (#44579001) Homepage Journal

          I guess the average user probably wouldn't but who doesn't get the rather obvious reference to Fahrenheit 451 and the burning of books?

          I think its probably the perfect symbolism, and even if most people don't get it now they will learn.
                 

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Usually the governments are not blocking pages directly. Instead they tell the ISPs or content providers to do the blocking on their behalf. So the ISP can block the page but still tell the customer that it's because of the government.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:40PM (#44576733)

    ... shouldn't it be a 3xx or 5xx error code? 4xx means the client screwed up.

    • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:48PM (#44576855) Homepage

      ... shouldn't it be a 3xx or 5xx error code? 4xx means the client screwed up.

      Well, living in a country, that's sufficiently oppressive to ban you from reaching any Internet-site it is your pleasure to visit, is a client's screw-up.

    • by ibwolf (126465) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @04:07PM (#44577059)

      4xx means the client screwed up.

      Only if by "screwed up" you mean "requested something that couldn't be delivered". 4xx is also used for things like "Payment required" and "Forbidden". The four hundred range is exactly right for this type of code. Asking for something you are not allowed to have is, in a very technical sense, a client error.

    • by 0racle (667029)
      4xx doesn't always mean the client screwed up, 403:Forbidden is usually a permissions problem. Yes it could mean the client didn't send the correct credentials, but it can also mean that you genuinly don't have access to that resource.

      3xx definitely doesn't make sense here, I doubt the server is going to redirect you somewhere to get the now 'illegal' material.

      I will say that I prefer on looks that this would be a 5xx error. It fits very well with the description of the 5xx class of messages "Response sta
      • According to Section 10.4.4 of RFC 2616, 403 means:

        The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it. Authorization will not help and the request SHOULD NOT be repeated. If the request method was not HEAD and the server wishes to make public why the request has not been fulfilled, it SHOULD describe the reason for the refusal in the entity. If the server does not wish to make this information available to the client, the status code 404 (Not Found) can be used instead.

      • by Sique (173459)
        No, it doesn't fit. The server has not encountered any error, and it would be capable to perform the request. It is not allowed to do so, which has nothing to do with technical reasons. Thus 4xx is the right range for the errors.
      • 4xx doesn't always mean the client screwed up, 403:Forbidden is usually a permissions problem. Yes it could mean the client didn't send the correct credentials, but it can also mean that you genuinly don't have access to that resource.

        403 is an improper reply for a permissions problem. 403 is for resources that are there, but won't be given to anyone, no matter what their credentials are. 401 is for permissions problems, which the client can fix by providing the proper credentials. (Obviously if a site doesn't want to tell unauthorised people which resources are available or not, they will report 401 until proper credentials are given, and only then report 404 or 403 or whatever).

    • by suutar (1860506)
      *shrug* It's no less (or more) a client screwup than requests that get 404 or 410. I realize 3xx, 4xx, 5xx are usually tagged as redirect, client error, server error but they're better described as "I can't do it but talk to Fred", "I can't do that and I'm not prepared to tell you if someone else can", and "Ow, my spleen!"
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:35PM (#44578991) Homepage Journal

      client screwed up

      ...at the ballot box.

  • Reference to... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:40PM (#44576737)

    For those who missed the reference and didn't click the links, this is a reference to Fahrenheit 451.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      For those who missed the reference and didn't click the links, this is a reference to Fahrenheit 451.

      Anyone who didn't get the references need to: Go back to highschool chemistry, and read more books.

    • For those who missed the reference and didn't click the links, this is a reference to Fahrenheit 451.

      Fahrenheit 451 is interesting, because contrary to what many believe it wasn't really about government censorship, and the culprit in the story isn't the state, but the people, and how they embraced apathy and lack of substance with watching TV over reading books. Source:the author [laweekly.com]

      • The book do not need to match reality in any way. It's a reference to burning books, censoring the web is burning books. That is the message.
    • 666: Blocked by your evil government. Move to a free country or fight for your right. Use it or lose it.

  • by ACS Solver (1068112) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:40PM (#44576745)
    The idea has been floating around for a while. It's still brilliant in the simplicity and anti-censorship attitude of it. What the article doesn't mention is that its an IETF draft [ietf.org] now. Wish the error could be something like "451 Bad Government".
  • by jonbryce (703250) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#44576749) Homepage

    If I visit www.thepiratebay.org on a browser that doesn't have an anti-censorship plugin installed, I get

    "The page you're looking for has been blocked.

    "We're complying with a court order that means access to this website has
    "to be blocked to protect against copyright infringement."

  • by jemenake (595948) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:41PM (#44576761)
    Can we make "200" mean that the gov't is watching your traffic? The nice part is that we don't have to change any of the installed base of webservers...
    • I suppose it is news that Open Rights Group is now supporting the code because of UK censorship. Sad that code is needed more and more.
  • 451... Nice... Ray Bradbury would be proud :)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:47PM (#44576835) Journal

    I would be strongly in favor of not having censored pages look like nonexistent or technically glitched pages, as there's nothing more insidious than silent censorship; but I have to wonder if an HTTP response code is the right tool for the job.

    The various existing codes are not particularly granular, and an anti-censorship pressure scheme that has any hope of succeeding needs to be granular.

    It doesn't help me if all I now is "Example.org is unavailable for legal reasons". I need to know what jurisidiction, what law, what court order(if any), what private actor (in the case of something like the DMCA), and ideally the asserted reason. Ideally, all that information would be properly marked up (not just a text blob) so that a browser could pretty-print it for the end user, a spider gathering statistics or scraping could gather statistics, and so forth.

    You need to, as directly as possible, tie the entities responsible for the fact that you can't see the page to the message that you can't see the page. If you don't do that, people might generate some diffuse displeasure; but will have little way of knowing who is behind the problem.

    • The site you are visiting has been blocked for one or more reasons, please select what you are looking for and we will redirect you to an alternate site. Your IP Address will be logged.

      [] Unauthorized copies of Copyrighted materials
      [] Jihadist tips and chat rooms
      [] Politically Incorrect information
      [] Child Pornography

      [SUBMIT]

      We are sorry, but for legal reasons, the [CANCEL] button has been removed from this page.
    • by mcl630 (1839996)

      The example error message the Open Rights Group gives in TFA does exactly what you're asking for.

  • So 451 will be the code the government will issue when they feel they want a revolution?
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @03:54PM (#44576927) Journal

    What's the Curie temperature of an HDD platter's magnetic coating?

  • of course we know that server errors are 500s codes, not 400s.. and that is essentially what this is.. the server (or client's upstream) is taking the action... not the client.

    so i propose that the number instead be...

    HTTP/1.1 507 SOL

    • Or it's a client error because the client is in a country with a shitty government.
    • by Ionized (170001)

      451 is appropriate, as others in this thread have pointed out. 4xx indicates client is trying to access something that cannot be served to them, for whatever reason.

      403 for instance is an access denied message - "this content is here, but you aren't allowed to see it"

      5xx indicates server errors. in the case of blocked content, there is no server error. you just aren't allowed to see the content you are requesting, so the comparison to 403 is incredibly appropriate.

  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @04:28PM (#44577243) Homepage Journal

    I couldn't find your webpage, but dude, I totally found my stash!

    (See also: hash error)

  • I have a huge peeve with people calling 404 error "File not found" because url's are not files! "Page" is closer, but then it's not always a page requested via http.

    C'mon people, get this straight! It's not hard, now write this 100 times on the chalkboard:

    "404 Not Found"

  • by PPH (736903)
    "Dude. What?"
  • When I was in Thailand and tried to access a wikipedia page about King Rama IX I actually got a friendly page telling me that that page is banned in Thailand. At least they were upfront about it. Much nicer than a 404 or 451.

    Of course, I then just pulled up the Google cache copy of it and read that.

  • The ideal number [wikipedia.org] indicate censorship!
  • by scsirob (246572) on Friday August 16, 2013 @02:09AM (#44580807)

    As this is a total scam, why would they not assign 419 to it?

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