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Illegal number – Represents information which is illegal to possess (wikipedia.org)
39 points by belter 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments



When is a file so large that it is no longer considered a number? If it is larger than 16 bytes?

If I remember correctly its also not so difficult to take an arbitrary zip file, append some noise so that it becomes prime (and will still decode). So even illegal primes are not difficult.


>When is a file so large that it is no longer considered a number? If it is larger than 16 bytes?

It's not considered a "number" when society thinks of it in a higher conceptual abstraction than a number. It may sound like tautology and circular reasoning but that's basically it.

A 16-byte number is a range of 0 to 256^16. Can some value within that small range be illegal? Maybe if someone doxxed somebody with GPS coordinates of their house and embedded it in those 16 bytes, they might run in to trouble with the law. Examples: https://www.google.com/search?q=laws+illegal+doxxing

For larger examples... a 200k jpeg of a child in a porn scene is just a number less than 256^200000. A 2 gigabyte mp4 video file of a copyrighted Marvel Avengers movie is just a number less than 256^2000000000. Can those accused of a crime convince the following groups in society that those are just very large numbers in a mathematical sense:

- police arresting you

- jury convicting you

- judge sentencing you to prison

- employers rejecting your job application after you've served prison time


> It's not considered a "number" when society thinks of it in a higher conceptual abstraction than a number.

Which just shows that "number" itself is a conceptual abstraction, no higher or lower than the others.


I think it's a similar question to when do grains of sand become a pile of sand?

Totally subjective and differs per person and doesn't have a definitive answer.


A number can have an arbitrary amount of digits and arbitrary precision. So, any file is a number if you're brave enough. When you open a file in a hex editor, you see it as a very long hexadecimal number.


There's absolutely no difference between files and numbers, that's the whole point behind encoding.


Prior discussion on illegal prime numbers https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26776949

And an older one: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16084731


That makes me wonder if that means the product of two illegal prime numbers is an illegal number, or if it would be contingent on the computational feasibility of a third party factoring the product.

And if it's generally not feasible to do the factoring, what if you distribute the product of an illegal prime number and a non-illegal prime number? The product itself cannot be illegal, as nobody other than its creator could even detect an illegal prime was there, let alone determine its value. That is, unless you made the non-illegal prime number public... which would result in the illegal prime number being public, so it's illegal! You just made a non-illegal prime number illegal by multiplying it by an illegal prime number! How many primes can we illegalise this way?


Let’s start with 3 and start suing stoplight manufacturers.


Quite a prime example of how a private entity can and is using its financial and political power to censor the public.


Maybe I don't get something, but isn't that obvious?

Information can be encoded as numbers. If possessing that information is illegal, then possessing the number is illegal.

Should child porn be legal when encoded as a decimal number?


It's not so clear cut to me. The same number can decode to completely different pieces of information. In fact one can build a concrete mapping such that a specific number maps to any piece of information. Does that make all numbers illegal?

What if I compress the same information with 10 different algorithms. Are the 10 hex representation of that file illegal?


> What if I compress the same information with 10 different algorithms. Are the 10 hex representation of that file illegal?

I'd think so.

For any nontrivial piece of information, your chances of accidentally hitting any reasonable encoding of it is practically zero.


I think people see a qualitative difference between eg a decryption key which you can easily memorize and an encoded file.


We can also imagine illegal index, since some number like PI can contain any sequence of digit (as far as I know...).


That fact about pi is suspected to be true but still not proven.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_number


Even if it were true, the index may well be larger than the data you're indexing.


Of course. But the question here is not compression.


The Free Speech flag is kind of clunky with the "+C0". (despite the "Crime 0" explanation) You could have put a sixth stripe with the colour C00000, but only in the top 1/3rd (with black in the bottom 2/3rds) to say only take the first byte, perhaps.


How are laws for this sort of thing made? Clearly you can’t include the number in the legal code, as that would defeat the whole purpose. The next question is how does one even know if a number is illegal?


The numbers aren't really illegal. The information that can be encoded via the number might be illegal to use/disclose/share.

For example, you can take a revenge porn video and convert it into a number (like you can with ANY digital file). Sharing that number so that people can play the porn video might be illegal. But if that number happened to be used to encode a something else, its not illegal at all.

This is just a rhetorical argument that "information shouldn't be, like, illegal man!"


Strict liability crime. The law, as written, defines a nebulous and ever changing set of circumstances where you are criminally liable.

To me I see no functional difference between a “democratic” rule of law where you are always commuting some infraction and being ruled by a king and subject to his whims.


It's the same way you don't have to have pictures of lockpicks for a law to make lockpicks illegal.

How do you know if any piece o might actually be an illegal lockpick? Maybe you don't really, but if you have a big box of scrap metal you're not going to be charged with possessing the lockpick, you only get charged after trying to pick a lock with it. Illegal decryption keys are just the same as that.


> How do you know if any piece o might actually be an illegal lockpick? Maybe you don't really, but if you have a big box of scrap metal you're not going to be charged with possessing the lockpick, you only get charged after trying to pick a lock with it. Illegal decryption keys are just the same as that.

That's not really true, is it? Instances of simply possessing or intention to share illegal numbers (such as the PS3 encryption keys) have been tried as criminal acts.


> Instances of simply possessing or intention to share illegal numbers (such as the PS3 encryption keys) have been tried as criminal acts.

[citation needed]. No, the article doesn't list any citations to a criminal suit against someone for sharing PS3 encryption keys. There is a civil lawsuit against someone for distributing PS3 jailbreaking firmware, of which the keys form a part (but not the totality!) of the suit, and even that is only indirectly referenced.


Could the submission title be changed to the article title? The extra words don’t really explain it and just make it weaker.




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