Error 451, The Net’s New Censorship Error

How do you know if the country you are in is blocking a website? The new error is how! Thanks to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF),  if you are in a country that censors the website you are trying to visit, you will see a status code indicates the server is denying access to the resource as a consequence of a legal demand. In other words, you are being blocked.


In a case of life paying tribute to art, the IETF first suggested the new censorship error be called Error 451. That is a reference to Ray Bradbury’s famous dystopian censorship novel Fahrenheit 451, and was suggested by former Google engineer, Tim Bray, according to PCWorld. Bradbury states in his novel that 451 is the temperature that book paper reaches a kindling point.

The idea behind this error is to let users know the specifics behind a the blocking of a site. It could be blocked because the government does not like what the site has to say, or it could be that it is banning certain websites that involve streaming or internet piracy. In the UK, the government bans The Pirate Bay, and accessing the site would previously result in a 403 forbidden error. Now, the 451 error will appear.

In light of this new error, some less transparent governments are opting not to disclose their demands to block material. You can imagine that that it is not the kind of error you would see in China. Instead, it is geared more toward democratic and semi-democratic governments. This message may be displayed by Twitter, Facebook, or even the ISPs themselves.

The chances are if you are visiting banned websites like this, you already know why it is blocked. This is likely to spark more debate in the more democratic countries about internet censorship. This can be a dangerous road that a government takes. Once the process is put in motion, you could see other things get banned like schematics for 3D printers, because they infringe as well.

Though some feel that this new error message is not necessary, others are praising it. No matter what, these days, people like to have real explanations. Will this make a huge difference? Possibly not. What it will do is let the public know exactly why the sites they are trying to access are blocked. Most of these sites can still be accessed by using a VPN, so there is no need to be concerned if you receive this message.