The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is expected to receive approval for a new error code that will indicate online censorship. The error code is numbered 451, in honor of Ray Bradbury’s famous novel Fahrenheit 451, where books are banned and burned. The 451 code will essentially mean that web content is unavailable for legal purposes.

When a person receives the 451, it will indicate that the web server denying access to the resource because of a legal demand. The server in question might not even be an origin server. In fact, the servers that are most likely to present a 451 code are ISP servers and search engines.

The proposal was published by the IETF late last week, and it should encourage some web servers to start using it as soon as possible. However, there will still be a few remaining steps before the code becomes officially recognized. The 451 code was originally proposed in June of 2012, when British ISP were being forced to block access to The Pirate Bay torrent provider.  

It has been said that IETF officials were initially hesitant to grant the 451 code with their seal of approval. This is because the officials were not convinced that it was a good use of a precious client error status code. Since client error status codes can only be numbered from 400 to 499, they are finite in number. In order to receive an official code number, it had better be for a good reason. A problem with the 451 code is that there isn’t exactly an obvious way for computers to make use of it.

Still, as more time passed, the need for a client error censorship code became more pressing. Many websites started saying that they wanted users to know that their material was being censored rather than just simply being unavailable for an ambiguous reason. Additionally, web users said that they wanted to be able to uncover instances of censorship in an official fashion. This will be especially useful for various groups that keep track of censorship on the internet.

While websites will not be required to use the 451 code, the IETF will encourage them to do so when necessary. Eventually, the IETF hopes that major companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter will start making use of the code. Some experts believe that the code will prompt web users to try accessing the desired content in a different way, such as using the Tor browser to bypass censorship.

However, the 451 code is unlikely to be used in countries that regularly censor the internet anyway. Such countries generally prefer to not inform their citizens about just how much information is being hidden from them. But countries and websites that are honest enough to let their citizens and internet users know that they are being denied access should make great use of the code.

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