Web

‘451 Unavailable’ error: Campaign seeks to expose government censorship of the Web

451 unavailable campaign

Any Web user is familiar with the 404 Page Not Found error message that appears on broken links. And some of us have happened upon the more mysterious ‘403 Forbidden’ error. But now, a digital rights group from the United Kingdom has launched a campaign this week to add yet another error message to the mix: ‘451 Unavailable,’ to be used anytime a webpage or website is blocked by a government for legal reasons.

Evoking the anticensorship message of late author Ray Bradbury’s famous novel Fahrenheit 451, the 451 Unavailable campaign is the brainchild of Open Rights Group (ORG), a U.K.-based public advocacy group that seeks to defend free speech and consumer rights on the Internet.

As the group explains on the 451 Unavailable website, governments may require Internet Service Providers to block access to certain websites for a variety of reasons. “In the UK, this is usually because the websites contain material that infringes copyright. In other parts of the world, websites are targeted for their political content,” ORG explains on the site. Currently, the 403 Forbidden message is often used in these instances, but the group believes this error fails to provide enough information to Web users when access is restricted by government demands.

The purpose of the 451 error is to explain to would-be visitors the exact reason a website or page is blocked. In addition to the error message itself, says ORG, a site blocked for legal reasons would ideally include “all the key information about the blocking order including links to the relevant court order, how to challenge the block and the law allowing the court to block websites in that country.”

While the 451 Unavailable campaign is new, the idea for a 451 error code to signify government censorship on the Web is not. In June of last year, Google developer Tim Bray first proposed the 451 error code, and went so far as to submit an official proposal to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which oversees the implementation of Web standards, including HTTP codes like 404 Page Not Found. The IETF was expected to consider Bray’s proposal last July, but has not yet approved its use.

In a message on Twitter, Bray tells us that he was not involved with building ORG’s website campaign, but is “smiling” at the effort. “I drafted the IETF proposal,” he writes. “Hadn’t seen the site, but smiling.”

According to ORG campaigner Ed Paton-Williams, “the 451 Unavailable campaign promotes the Error 451 code proposed by Tim Bray.” If the IETF approves Bray’s proposal, ORG sees the 451 error “being implemented by ISPs and search engines,” Paton-Williams told Digital Trends. 

The IETF did not immediately respond to our request for comment on the status of Bray’s 451 proposal.

The ‘451 Unavailable’ campaign comes amidst heated debate in the U.K. over a government plan to force ISPs to block access to pornographic websites and material, unless a subscriber explicitly opts out of the porn filter. The U.K. government has already instituted a widespread block on we bites, like The Pirate Bay, which allow users to download copyrighted content illegally. According to a recent PC Pro report, the anti-piracy filter has led U.K. ISPs Virgin Media and Sky to inadvertently block access to legitimate news websites, including Radio Times and TorrentFreak.

If implemented, the 451 error code would not only be available for use by ISPs in the U.K., but also those worldwide.

ORG is currently asking legal experts, ISPs, Web developers, and the general public to help in the 451 campaign.

Smart Home

With a simple command, Alexa can arm all your security devices

Alexa customers can query status plus arm or disarm home security systems several companies. New Alexa Guard skills set your home to away mode, send alerts when alarms or sensors go off, and contact home security monitoring services.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.
Deals

You don't want to sleep on these red-hot bedding deals

We've rounded up some of the best discounts and sales happening right now, so you can buy yourself (or your loved ones) new bedding without breaking your budget. Trust us when we say these are deals worth losing sleep over.
Gaming

How to delete games on your PS4

PlayStation 4 games eat up storage space quickly, which will inevitably require you to make room for new games. Here's how to delete and reinstall games on PS4 for those times when you have to manage your storage space.
Computing

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.
Web

Google Translate updated to reduce gender bias in its translations

Google is changing how Google Translate offers translations. Previously when you entered a word like doctor, Translate would offer a masculine interpretation of the word. Now, Translate will offer both masculine and feminine versions.
Web

Encryption-busting law passed in Australia may have global privacy implications

Controversial laws have been passed in Australia which oblige tech companies to allow the police to access encrypted messages, undermining the privacy of encryption with potentially global effects.
Web

Can Microsoft’s Airband Initiative close broadband gap for 25M Americans?

A new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 25 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet. Of these, more than 19 million are living in rural communities. Can Microsoft help out?
Computing

Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser may be adding your Chrome extensions

Fans sticking to Google Chrome because due to its vast extension library might be able to switch over to Microsoft's latest iteration of Edge, as a project manager confirms that the company has its eyes on Chrome extensions.
Computing

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.
Computing

Google+ continues to sink with a second massive data breach. Abandon ship now

Google+ was scheduled to shut its doors in August 2019, but the second security breach in only a few months has caused the company to move its plan forward a few months. It might be a good idea to delete your account sooner than later.
Social Media

‘YouTube Rewind 2018’ is about to become its most disliked video ever

YouTube is about to achieve a record it really doesn't want — that of "most-disliked video." Yes, its annual recap of featuring popular YouTubers has gone down really badly this year.
Computing

Want to save a webpage as a PDF? Just follow these steps

Need to quickly save and share a webpage? The best way is to learn how to save a webpage as a PDF file, as they're fully featured and can handle images and text with ease. Here's how.
Mobile

5G: Why everything is about to change

Curious about the many ways 5G will change and enrich your life? Here’s our guide to all things 5G.