back to article Open Rights Group revives 'unavailable for legal reasons' HTTP error code plan

The UK's Open Rights Group has revived the campaign to create a new HTTP error code to protest censorship. The campaign to do so has burbled along for a few years, partly thanks to a Google employee named Tim Bray who created a draft for ”An HTTP Status Code to Report Legal Obstacles ”. Bray has revised the draft a couple of …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is a good idea

    Sadly, that fact is probably not relevant.

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    alternative wording

    Why don't they just say


    (by orders of your ever loving and caring government)

    1. RAMChYLD

      Re: alternative wording

      ... And then watch the damn error be abused so that any access to Hulu, Netflix or any other region-locked video sites from outside the US results in said error.

      Seriously, I hate region coding for hundreds of reasons, and these people are not making it any easier.

  3. silent_count

    You KNOW it's gonna happen.

    "" is unavailable.

    Error #403: Access is forbidden.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Good idea

    Some stuff is quite rightly illegal and I don't have a problem with it being blocked at source, but that is only acceptable if the blocking is made clearly apparent to the user.

    If the government is confident that it is right to block material then it should also have no qualms about saying that this has occurred - we would all agree with the blocking after all, wouldn't we?

    I look forward to the ISPs eagerly taking this up with DC's approval.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice idea, could do with tweaking

    How about error code 1984 with a picture of big brother staring back at you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice idea, could do with tweaking

      There is something similar, you can find it at

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice idea, could do with tweaking

      ...because the 400 series codes are used to indicate errors. So 451 fits into the current standard/convention quite nicely.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Nice idea, could do with tweaking

        it's uncanny!

      2. M Gale

        Re: Nice idea, could do with tweaking

        To be precise, they are there to represent "resource unavailable" errors, and the 4xy part tells you why it's unavailable.

        So yeah, adding a 51 to the 4xy bit seems like a damn good idea.

  6. cupperty

    A list?

    How about a public list (maintained by HMG) of all blocked websites?

    1. Nextweek

      Re: A list?

      Sure, but it will require half a billion to implement. Be delayed by 3 years and contain only a third of the required information. A help line will be setup but they won't have the power to tell you anything or actually do anything.

      1. Blain Hamon

        Re: A list?

        Don't worry, there will be a list. It'll be on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."

        Right, I'll get my oddly-shaped towel.

    2. g e

      Re: A list?

      How quaint, someone who trusts HMG to provide all the information in an honest & open manner.

      Not to disparage your good intentions, commiseration Friday pint!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A list?

      >How about a public list (maintained by HMG) of all blocked websites?

      Interesting idea: Get them to maintain a handy directory of sites they don't want seen, for the convenience of people running Tor and the like.

  7. Corp-Rat

    Reading the example 451 explanation, all I can say is:


  8. Tomato42
    Black Helicopters

    “It's still difficult to work out precisely why a website is blocked and to check if it's been blocked by mistake,” the group says, advising that “A really good Error 451 message would tell their customers how to challenge a block, how long the block's expected to last, where the relevant legal documents are and which legal authority imposed the blocking order.”

    Transparent government? Where MAFIAA is also involved? Somehow I don't see it happen...

    1. Dr Stephen Jones

      Child pornography is quite rightly blocked - would you like to see a 451 message there too?

      Tim Bray is a poseur and there is a good reason this is not implemented - criminals would use it the most.

      1. Blain Hamon

        > would you like to see a 451 message there too?

        Certainly! Then there'd be instructions for the bloke to contact his government about reaching the page! It actually sorts itself out from there, really.

        Also, there's already an icon for jumping to "Think of the children!"

      2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        "Child pornography is quite rightly blocked - would you like to see a 451 message there too?"


        Look through my post history and you'll see I sided with the porn filter. (You can't miss it - it's the one with all the downvotes.) But in an open society we need to know what is being blocked and why, and what we can do about it when inevitably an error is made. That some people might misuse the system is not a reason to abrogate it.

        1. dan1980

          Stuff will be blocked. It happens already but only (as the Aus Government calls it) "The worst of the worst".

          We have seen with the recent NSA leaks as well as numerous others relating to companies and government departments/agencies around the world that anything kept secret ends poorly for the public.

          There are always stories about over-zealous and under-regulated agencies blocking massive ranges of IP addresses in order to 'catch' a single site, bringing thousands of innocent websites down with them. It happens because there is no incentive for those managing the list to care and no real punishment when they f%^k up.

          The only remedy for such laxness is transparency.

          My view is that transparency is absolutely VITAL to making sure that government projects are actually in the public's interest. As such it is non-negotiable; if your proposed system falls over if transparency is required then that is a sign that it is the system, and NOT the requirement for transparency, that needs to be rethought.

      3. jaduncan

        Yes, of course. Stating the reason for blocking is not a moral commentary on the reson for the block.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        Child pornography is quite rightly blocked - would you like to see a 451 message there too?

        Do you think the 451 message means they still get to see the porn? It doesn't. If they go to a blocked site all they will get is the 451 message.

        Tim Bray is a poseur

        Why the ad hominem attack, it serves no purpose other than to detract from any argument you might have.

        criminals would use it the most.

        Please explain how criminals would use the 451 message for criminal activities because I can't see how they would use it to their advantage.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "A really good Error 451 message..."

      What's stopping them putting all that into the body of a 403 error page?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "A really good Error 451 message..."

        A 403 error message means the following:

        403 - The request was a valid request, but the server is refusing to respond to it.

        Since it isn't the server that is refusing to respond (the ISP is blocking it) a 403 message is incorrect.

        1. Jordan 1

          Re: "A really good Error 451 message..."

          That's a good argument for not making it an HTTP error at all. It's not an error (not a technical one, anyway). That's probably why the IETF rejected it.

  9. C 18

    >the temperature at which books burn

    Actually, if I remember correctly, 451F is the temperature required before paper will combust. It burns of course at all temperatures above that.

    Books are made from materials other than paper, so while the paper might combust at 451F, and subsequently the rest of the material of the book will more than likely do so, if the fire can be maintained long enough to generate the heat required for the other material (leather for one).

    It is somewhat ironic that they should use the Fahrenheit 451 reference when the story implied that the screen overruled the paper page for the dissemination of information in that society... The underlying truth of course being that the static nature of the information on a printed page (once that page is not destroyed) is less malleable than digital information.

    Oh... and some people have too much time on their hands...

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: >the temperature at which books burn

      There is no magic number for the ignition temperature of 'paper'. Ignition temperature is a function of the materials something is made from and any chemical processes it undergoes in order to become the finished good.

      There are about 1.7 zillion officially standardized types of 'paper', some of which ignite much lower and some much higher that 451F.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: >the temperature at which books burn

        But Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit (some number that may be lower or higher than) 451 is less zingy

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  11. vogon00

    Get a grip and panic ye not..

    Leaving aside the inevitable quips about grumble-flick-searchers' failed requests possibly encountering '417 Expectation Failed' or even '411 Length Required', it strikes me that :-

    If some entity has decreed (Irrespective of the popularity, validity and correctness of said decree) that content available from a web server has been deemed unacceptable AND they have the clout to enforce it, what *is* wrong with the idea of a specific HTTP Error (In either the 4xx or 5xx series) being provided to the requesting client?

    Looking at the existing list of 4xx and 5xx codes (See RFC2616 etc.), we see most of them have detailed and explicit use-cases...which are all designed for known or anticipated specific conditions.

    IMHO this business of government censorship of the World Wide Web (If not the other wider aspects of the Internet) is a NEW specific condition which ought to be separately identified with it's own unique error code and use case with sensible optional or mandatory supplementary information. I'm thinking of it as a new requirement for HTTP.

    And before someone jumps on me for supporting censorship - I don't. I'm merely pointing out that HTTP needs to evolve along with the rest of us, no matter what individuals think of censorship, politics or the 'nanny state'.

    I'm not gonna guess on the details of this new error may be - there are enough people with bias doing that already [ '451' indeed, we are NOT in that sort of autocratic state as yet, and I hope we never are :-) ].

    I think this bloody censorship-at-ISP level is a joke and is not the way to go..gotta be a better way than that for all concerned.

    Fail, as there is no icon for cluster-f**k.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems like it would make sense to complement that with another one for when your content shouldn't have been blocked in the first place: "Unavailable for Illegal Reasons".

  13. User McUser

    Additional new errors

    42 - Question unavailable (still calculating.)

    007 - File has been designated "For Your Eyes Only."

    22 - Request denied; you clearly requested it.

    747 - Resource is in holding pattern. Please retry your request later.

    88 - Resource unavailable due to time travel. Please retry your request sooner.

    420 - Server reports "Munchies" (file has been eaten, even tried multi.)

    666 - Resource busy being tortured. Please retry in: ∞ years.

  14. Tim Bates

    They're using 403? WTF?

    What idiots thought 403 was a good error code to return for a government filter blocking the content? 403 means the server didn't want to send the file... Not that some government muppet has stuck a filter in the middle and blocked the page.

    Let me guess. The same muppets also figured they may aswell put a huge max-age aswell to save on bandwidth....

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