Decoding the error code 451

We have often landed up on webpages only to be glared back with a 404 error code. Now we know that it implies a network glitch. But, do you recall coming across an error 451 while trying to access a certain webpage, despite your internet connection being all steady? Well, this is because error 451 has nothing to do with your network connection. Instead, error 451 is a manifestation of online censorship of specific content. This status error code is displayed when a user tries to access a webpage which has been removed or blocked due to legal reasons. In the recent context when incidence of platform governance and online censorship has become rampant, error 451 is an attempt to enhance transparency while disabling user access. Proposed by Tim Bray, this error code was published in 2016 after the Internet Engineering Task Force drafted a standard protocol for the use of error 451. The error code not only creates more awareness around how legal demand limits access to specific webpages, it also triggers pertinent questions around safeguarding the freedom of expression of internet users. Mark Nottingham, a member of the task force said, "“By its nature, you can’t guarantee that all attempts to censor content will be conveniently labeled by the censor. Although 451 can be used both by network-based intermediaries (e.g., in a firewall) as well as on the origin Web server, I suspect it’s going to be used far more in the latter case, as Web sites like Github, Twitter, Facebook and Google are forced to censor content against their will in certain jurisdictions.” Wryly deriving its name from Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451 where books were outlawed and burnt, error code 451 is likely to be an important marker in gauging the level of online censorship that is currently prevalent and what strategies should be advocated by way of guaranteeing freedom of expression.


Here’s a bigger problem. Often it’s the ISPs that block websites on the mandate on the Government. There’ many ways of doing it, and they’re often easy to circumvent even without VPN. However. the most recent method is pretty damn shady -

This a is a completely opaque method of censorship that doesn’t even give you a blocked message but instead makes your browser throw an error. The first article is specific to Jio, the second one explores other ISPs, and I’ve seen this behavior on other ISPs not listed on their research as well

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I am curious about this. If they are blocked in India, can they still be accessed with the help of VPNs? or are they really blocked in a way that you’ll have no means of access to them? Still, I wish to learn more these.

I think they should be. VPNs mask the IP address in your network packet (the packet is encrypted) which means it will be hard to gauge the location of the network packet origin (in larger context, the origin location of your request to a particular server). And given that, the legal authority would apply prohibitory laws only within the geographical context in which the ISPs operate, I don’t see why VPNs wouldn’t allow access to such pages.