A brief history of banned numbers, illegal numbers



They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and authorities have often agreed. From outlawed religious tracts and revolutionary manifestos to censored and burned books, we know the potential power of words to overturn the social order. But as strange as it may seem, some numbers have also been considered dangerous enough to ban. Alessandra King details the history behind illegal numbers.




An illegal number is a number that represents information which is illegal to possess, utter, propagate, or otherwise transmit in some legal jurisdiction. Any piece of digital information is representable as a number; consequently, if communicating a specific set of information is illegal in some way, then the number may be illegal as well.




A number may represent some type of classified information or trade secret, legal to possess only by certain authorized persons. An AACS encryption key that came to prominence in May 2007 is an example of a number claimed to be a secret, and whose publication or inappropriate possession is claimed to be illegal in the United States. It allegedly assists in the decryption of any HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc released before this date. The issuers of a series of cease-and-desist letters claim that the key itself is, therefore, a copyright circumvention device and that publishing the key violates Title 1 of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
In part of the DeCSS court order and in the AACS legal notices, the claimed protection for these numbers is based on their mere possession and the value or potential use of the numbers. This makes their status and legal issues surrounding their distribution quite distinct from that of copyright infringement



Any image file or an executable program can be regarded as simply a very large binary number. In certain jurisdictions, there are images that are illegal to possess, due to obscenity or secrecy/classified status so the corresponding numbers could be illegal.
In 2011 Sony sued George Hotz and members of fail0verflow for jailbreaking the PlayStation 3. Part of the lawsuit complaint was that they had published PS3 keys. Sony also threatened to sue anyone who distributed the keys. Sony later accidentally tweeted an older dongle key through its fictional Kevin Butler character.


Other examples

There are other contexts in which smaller numbers have run afoul of laws or regulations, or drawn the attention of authorities.
In 2007, the Belgian minister of the Interior wrote a letter to the Belgian Football Association asking them to forbid fans in the stadiums from wearing football shirts displaying the numbers 88 and 18 without a name, due to the connotation those numbers were deemed to have with Adolf Hitler in right-wing fan circles.
In 2012 it was reported that the numbers 89, 6, and 4 each became banned search terms on search engines in China, because of the date (1989-06-04) of the June Fourth Massacre in Tienanmen Square.
Due to the association with gangs, in 2012 a school district in Colorado banned the wearing of jerseys that bore the numbers 18, 14, or 13 (or the reverse, 81, 41, or 31).
In 2017, far-right Slovak politician Marian Kotleba was criminally charged for donating 1,488 euro to a charity.
Thanks to Wikipedia: Illegal Number

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