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Who Says You Can't Have Fun at The IETF?

Terry Zink

A new IETF draft has been published that specifies a new HTTP status code for legally restricted resources. That is, if the government restricts your access to the web page, return this code (similar to how something not found is a 404).

The error code: 451.

From the Internet Draft, if the user tries to access a page, but access to the page is restricted by the government, display the following (for example):

HTTP/1.1 451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons

Unavailable For Legal Reasons

This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province of Judea due to Lex3515, the Legem Ne Subversionem Act of AUC755, which disallows access to resources hosted on servers deemed to be operated by the Judean Liberation Front.

The IETF draft is a head nod to Ray Bradbury's book Fahrenheit 451, a novel about someone living in society where books are censored by the government.

While this is a common interpretation of the book — government seizure of books — it is not one that Bradbury himself identified as the main theme. Quoting from Wikipedia:

The novel is frequently interpreted as being critical of state-sponsored censorship, but Bradbury has disputed this interpretation. He said in a 2007 interview that the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature. Bradbury went even further to elaborate his meaning, saying specifically that the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Yet in the paperback edition released in 1979, Bradbury wrote a new coda for the book containing multiple comments on censorship and its relation to the novel.

In other words, the 451-degrees-Fahrenheit-at-which-paper-burns refers to people's disinterest in books and literature, and more interest towards easier, shorter forms of communication such as radio and television (and today would be Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter… but not blogs, of course). He reiterated this opinion in a New York Times article in 2009.

On the other hand, what everyone thinks that the book is about, even if you haven't read it, is government censorship of books, and blocking access to material that the state feels its citizens shouldn't read. Given how pervasive that perception is, I think that the IETF draft is a clever play on the idea, even if the original writer of the book wouldn't approve.

By Terry Zink, Program Manager. More blog posts from Terry Zink can also be read here.

Related topics: Censorship, Internet Governance, Internet Protocol, Policy & Regulation, Web

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