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In general, there probably wouldn't be a criminal or civil case for someone who gets an account at the age of 12 (13 is generally the minimum age) or if someone gets access to an NSFW site at the age of 17 (18 is generally the minimum age) or if someone joins a dating site for adults at age 17 by inputting an incorrect birthdate. In most cases, I would assume the site would just block the user from the site after discovering this.

However, pretend that I was super famous (or the child of someone famous) and the news discovered that I had done one of the above and reported on it. Would I have committed a crime or a tort or neither? Or is it ambiguous because of unclear legal precedent? Are the laws limiting underage access to sites (below 13 for some, below 18 for other) targeted to the site owners or users? If it is a tort, then what damages can the company sue for, since an additional user on the site would not seem to cause damages, aside from possibly negative press (which would be difficult to quantify)? If it is a crime, then what crime is it and what is the statue of limitations?

Does it make any difference if the person was underage at the point of account creation, but no longer underage?

This assumes the person is at the age of criminal liability.

P.S. I know this is similar to Who is responsible for ensuring that 18+ content is not shown to minors: the site or the user? and could be considered a duplicate, but this question is slightly different.

Also, how is this legally different from drinking or gambling underage (for example, suppose I go to a college party and am given a drink)?

1

This would likely violate the ToS of the site involved, and so would probably be a breech of contract. But if no identifiable damage is done to the site operator, a suit is unlikely, and if a suit were brought damages would not be likely to be large.

In some US states there are laws prohibiting minors from accessing or receiving sexual content, even if non-obscene, which were held to be constitutional in a case for which I cannot find the citation at the moment. (I thoguht it was NY vs Ferber but that was child pornography law.) In such a case giving a false age might be a criminal violation.

18 USC 1470 makes it a crime to transmit sexual content to a person under 16 by mail or other interstate means, but does not make it a crime for the minor to receive the content.

Aside from any possible issue of sexual content, I don't see any crime involved in such a situation.

Edit:
This is different from underage drinking or gambling because there are clear and specific laws prohibiting a person who is underage from doing those things, and providing criminal and civil penalties (such as cancellation of a driver's license) in most jurisdictions (I think all US states have such laws).

I have not been able to find any corresponding law prohibiting a minor for accessing or receiving sexual content, although I think there may be such laws in some places.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no law specifically prohibiting giving a false age to a website (nor in general), as there is for giving a false age in an attempt to purchase alcohol or tobacco.

3
  • So, would the minor be charged with the crime or the site in the case of sexual content? Also, COPPA places restrictions for account users under 13. Jun 28 at 0:46
  • @joseph-parsons if you're asking about the next-to-last paragraph, it explains that 18 USC 1470 does not criminalize the receipt of sexual content by a minor. Therefore, it would not be possible to charge a minor with a crime under 18 USC 1470 for lying about his age in order to receive sexual material from a website. But that isn't particularly relevant to the question, since it doesn't address whether the minor broke any other law in lying about his age for that purpose.
    – phoog
    Jun 29 at 22:12
  • 1
    @joseph-parsons I have added a section about the difference with underage drinking and gambling. Jul 1 at 18:35
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Conduct like drinking underage or buying cigarettes or gambling underage is prohibited by statute.

Generally speaking, there are not statutes which prohibit people under a certain age from browsing certain websites.

Websites mostly purport to limit access to adults: (1) to escape liability for marketing to products to minors that minors can't buy, (2) to comply with voluntary industry standard content regulation (which movie and TV and music industries, for example, impose on themselves to discourage the adoption of such regulations with the force of law), and (3) to govern the legal standard that would apply in an obscenity prosecution (which is might higher for content where there is an exclusively adult audience than it is when there is an audience that may include children).

None of those considerations make it per se illegal for a minor to view any particular kind of Internet content.

-2

The false birthdate isn't a problem by itself. What's a problem is if that lie was used to gain advantages illegally. For example, if parents can make tax deductions for children under eighteen, then a nineteen year old claiming he is sixteen would be tax fraud.

Or if you apply for a loan and claim you are 18 instead of 17. Giving a loan to a 17 year old is a huge legal risk for the bank because they will have a hard time getting their money back if they give a loan to an underage person. If you did that intentionally, that would be an "interesting" legal situation, and "interesting" may not be good for you.

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  • Well, a false birthdate could be illegal if considered an unauthorized access under the CFAA, but I doubt it would be. I was wondering if other laws would apply. Jun 28 at 15:42
  • "they will have a hard time getting their money back if they give a loan to an underage person": why?
    – phoog
    Jun 29 at 22:03
  • 1
    "a nineteen year old claiming he is sixteen would be tax fraud": no, a parent claiming a deduction for a 19-year-old by claiming that he is 16 years old is tax fraud.
    – phoog
    Jun 29 at 22:15
  • @phoog Minors have a right to cancel (avoid) many co9ntracts after becoming of age, and if the contract was canceled the lender might be at a loss. Also, minors often have less prospect of repaying loans, so the age is a material fact. Jul 1 at 21:38
  • @DavidSiegel ok, but credit checks would show that the person is a huge risk (and probably reveal the lie about the date of birth). What bank will give a loan to an 18-year-old? Supposing we find one that would, what greater risk would the bank actually undertake by giving a loan to a 17-year-old? I have a hard time imagining that a 17-year-old borrower could actually cancel a loan contract on the basis of the borrower's age.
    – phoog
    Jul 2 at 9:52

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