It's a Crime for 12-Year-Olds to Read The New York Times Online

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a word of warning: many teenagers are wantonly breaking the law every day by reading news sites on the web because the Department of Justice's weird implementation of vague laws has left a number of media outlets with odd age-based legal prohibitions for their web sites.

It's hard to beat the headline the EFF uses: "Are You A Teenager Who Reads News Online? According to the Justice Department, You May Be a Criminal." The organization, a non-profit focused on protecting online rights, looked at the posted terms of service for a number of media sites and evaluated their stated prohibitions against what the law actually says. It explains:

As we’ve explained previously, in multiple cases the DOJ has taken the position that a violation of a website’s Terms of Service or an employer’s Terms of Use policy can be treated as a criminal act. And the House Judiciary Committee has floated a proposal that makes the DOJ’s position law, making it a crime to access a website for any “impermissible purpose.” For a number of reasons, including the requirements of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, many news sites have terms of service that prohibit minors from using their interactive services and sometimes even visiting their websites.

There are four broad categories into which media websites fall. In order to best serve the public, we've added some of our favorite sites to the list compiled by the EFF. For quick reference, each category has been identified with an image showing which members of Shaquille O'Neal's family can read the sites. (Image by Reuters, with some edits.)

Recommended Reading

Please print out the list below and post it near the computer in your family room. The last thing you need is the Feds hauling Timmy off to prison for reading ThinkProgress.

  • The New York Times
  • Boston Globe
  • Daily Caller
  • Breitbart
  • NBC News

This is actually the level that's closest to what the law demands. Though, as the EFF notes:

This means that inquisitive 12-year-olds who visit to learn about current events would be, by default, misrepresenting their ages. That's criminal by DOJ standards and would be explicitly illegal under the House Judiciary Committee's proposal.

  • Hearst Publications, including papers like Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Alex Jones' InfoWars
  • WorldNetDaily
  • ThinkProgress
  • BuzzFeed

Yes, BuzzFeed. Its terms of services say it's "not intended for or directed to persons who are minors (typically persons under the age of 18, depending on where you live)."

  • NPR
  • Conde Nast publications, like the New Yorker
  • CNN

Please substitute "Shaq" above for the name of your parent or legal guardian.

  • Fox News
  • Drudge Report
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • DailyKos
  • Huffington Post
  • Salon
  • Slate
  • ABC News
  • Gawker
  • Business Insider
  • Businessweek

And, of course:

  • The Atlantic Wire (Welcome, children! Please enjoy the site.)

The EFF notes that its findings, while amusing, aren't entirely a joke.

We’d like to say that we’re being facetious, but, unfortunately, the Justice Department has already demonstrated its willingness to pursue [the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act] to absurd extremes. Luckily, the Ninth Circuit rejected the government’s arguments, concluding that, under such an ruling, millions of unsuspecting citizens would suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law. As Judge Alex Kozinski so aptly wrote: "Under the government’s proposed interpretation of the CFAA...describing yourself as 'tall, dark and handsome,' when you’re actually short and homely, will earn you a handsome orange jumpsuit."

If you're only 12 and don't understand that reference, a jumpsuit is what is worn in prison. Ask your parents.

Photo by lanych via Shutterstock.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.