A sign of the times: 451 Unavailable for Legal Reasons

People are always effective at hijacking, twisting, and ultimately destroying ideals. Over the last few years, that cherished ideal of the free, open and hugely beneficial Internet has been systematically perverted.

While you are weathering ad-blocker wars, mass security breaches, phishing attacks, online fraud, governments conspiring to inspect your most private actions, and even Twitter making you ‘heart’ tweets instead of faving them, rest assured that our Internet engineers are responding.

When you point your browser at a webpage which the server cannot deliver, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) error codes are not currently explicit enough to explain why you really cannot see that page. At present, server error codes in response to apparently valid requests include such gems as 500 (internal server error) which covers any error not covered by another code, and 520 (unknown error) which is a catch-all, an error error.

Under a new draft standard, in future web servers will be able to return a code of 451 to indicate that the server operator has received a legal demand to deny access to that resource.

Those wonderful optimists in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) anticipate that responses using error 451 should include “an explanation” “of the details of the legal demand: the party making it, the applicable legislation or regulation, and what classes of person and resource it applies to.”

Just like Google tells you that “some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”, you can guarantee that we’ll be left in the dark, wondering where the Internet went.