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Googler Wants Error 451 for Government Censorship

In an interview with The Guardian, Google employee Tim Bray said that he's recommending to the Internet Engineering Task Force to use error code 451 when a website is blocked by the government.

For those who don't recognize the symbolism, the number pays homage to the late Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 which was first published in 1950. The story warned of a dystopian world defined by government-imposed censorship which arrived in the form of burning any house that contained books.

"We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech," Bray said. "On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently; for example, most civilized people find Britain’s system of superinjunctions loathsome and terrifying."

"While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful," he added. "Also, since the Internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the Net, in the year of his death."

Earlier this month, Ray Bradbury died at the age of 91. In addition to Fahrenheit 451, he was most famously known for The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I Sing The Body Electric, The Illustrated Man and more. He never believed himself to be a science fiction writer outside Fahrenheit 451, labeling himself as a fantasy author instead.

"Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen," he said.

Google's Bray told The Guardian that the Internet Engineering Task Force, which develops and promotes Internet standards while working closely with the W3C and ISO/IEC, will likely to look at his proposal when it next meets in late July.

"This is a smart and conservative group and it's possible that someone will point out a fatal flaw in the idea, or that while such a status code is sensible, the number '451' is inappropriate for technical reasons," he said. "I'd be mildly surprised, but not too terribly; designing the internet is hard. On the other hand, assuming the IETF smiles on the idea, the work of deploying it in web servers and browsers would be easy and straightforward, and I would expect to see fairly rapid uptake."

What an awesome way to honor such an awesome author.