Tunisian journalist sues government agency for blocking Facebook, claims damage for the use of 404 error message instead of 403

Tunisian journalist and blogger Zied El-Hen filed a suit this week in a Tunisian court against the Tunisian Internet Agency for blocking the social networking Web site Facebook, according to a report by Reuters (Arabic). The journalist demands about $5,000 as a compensation for the damages which the blocking caused to him. He said the fact that the Tunisian President himself had to intervene to have the site unblocked last week is an evidence that the blocking was wrong and illegal.

In an interesting technical argument he said that the the agency mislead him by serving the message 404 (Not Found) error message instead of the 403 message (Access Forbidden), which the agency serves to users who attempt to access banned sites. This action of misleading (Not Found vs. Forbidden) caused him material as well as punitive damages, he said.

The 404 message or Not Found error message is a standard response code which means that the user connected to the site, Facebook in this case, but the site, Facebook, could not find what was requested. The 403 (Forbidden) message, however means that the user was able to communicate with the site, Facebook, but the server forbids him/her from accessing the site.

The President of Tunisia Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali ordered the unblocking of the site last week after it was blocked by the country's ISPs without giving any reason.

ONI will monitor the progress of this unprecedented legal case and report any development.