I'm in an RFC!


Friends, allow me to wallow in a little boasting!

Four years ago, I made a modest proposal for a new HTTP Code to indicate censorship.

A few days ago, RFC 7725: An HTTP Status Code to Report Legal Obstacles became an approved standard by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

rfc 7725-fs8

This allows a website, proxy, or ISP to explain to the user that the resource the user requested is unavailable for legal reasons.

This could be:

  • Content which isn't permitted in a specific country. For example, eBay could serve a 451 code to a user in Germany who tries to access Nazi memorabilia.
  • An ISP in the UK can let the user know that the High Court has banned access to a site - as opposed to displaying a generic error message.
  • A proxy server could warn the user that the content requested is illegal and, optionally, suggest alternative means of access.
  • A DNS server could redirect via a 451 code to warn the user that what they're doing is illegal and that they should cease such activity.

This is a purely optional code and, of course, there may be legal measures which prevent an block being publicised. That said, I hope that it will gain use and help highlight just how much access to information is being restricted

The vast bulk of the work was conducted by Tim Bray - who is a formidably persuasive writer with a seeming mastery of all things technical. I know that the OpenRightsGroup helped lobby for this proposal via their 451 Unavailable campaign. My contribution was limited to a few emails and the initial suggestion. I'm also grateful to everyone who blogged and commented about the proposal as it made its way through the standards body.

Tucked away at the bottom of the final RFC is this:

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Terence Eden, who observed that the existing status code
403 was not really suitable for this situation, and suggested the
creation of a new status code.

Thanks also to Ray Bradbury.
RFC7725

So I shall bathe in reflected glory, and step up my efforts to get ISPs to adopt this new code.

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