Is It Illegal for Kids to Read News Online?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on April 25, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Are you a teenager who reads news online? In the eyes of the Justice Department, you may technically be a criminal.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) under both the Bush and Obama administrations have interpreted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act very broadly. So broadly, in fact, that it can be considered a crime for many kids to access news websites, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF, a non-profit that focuses on protecting online rights, is warning literate young citizens that the DOJ's expansive interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has left many media outlets with strange age-based restrictions as to who can visit their websites.

Basically, a violation of a website's Terms of Service or Terms of Use policy can potentially be treated as a criminal act under the DOJ's interpretation.

The House Judiciary Committee has proposed making that position a part of the law. That means it would be a crime to access a website for any "impermissible purpose."

For many reasons, in part because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, many news sites have terms of service that don't allow minors to visit their websites. But these terms of service vary. For example:

  • If you're under 13, you're breaking the law when you read sites like The New York Times, The Daily Caller,, and, according to The Atlantic.

  • If you're under 18, you'd best stay away from Alex Jones' InfoWars; WorldNetDaily; ThinkProgress; BuzzFeed; and any Hearst Publications website, which includes papers like Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • However, it's apparently OK for all minors to visit sites like Gawker, Slate, Salon, and The Huffington Post, just to name a few.

Though the EFF recognizes it's being facetious in its warning, they say it's not really a laughing matter. Recently, a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 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."

So parents may want to keep a close eye on their 12-and-a-half-year-old. If he sneaks another peek at the digital New York Times, the feds might come knocking on your door.

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