Turns out, age verification isn't required by law.

Mike Pomranz
September 22, 2017

What's the deal with those age verification pop-ups on alcohol brands' websites? As a consumer, the object may seem clear: You have to be 21 to drink 'em in a bar; you should be 21 to hang out with 'em online. But as a writer who covers plenty of alcohol-related topics, when I'm asked my age while doing research, I find it odd. Luckily, I'm a old man, but let's say I was a strapping 20-year-old working on a story for my college newspaper: Should I not be allowed to simply gather information about a product?

Turns out those ubiquitous pop-up screens aren't required by law, but instead have been pushed on the booze industry by activist pressure—at least according to the Huffington Post, who spoke with an expert in the field.

"There is no law or regulation per se that requires age verification," Marvin Cable, who teaches internet law and policy for the University of Massachusetts and is a policy expert in the field of drug and alcohol law, told HuffPo. Instead, booze brands have been convinced to add age gates as a public service under the pretense that it will benefit young people. (By whom, remains unexplored.)

"These proponents believe that the less youth know about or are exposed to alcohol subject matters, the less that youth are harmed by alcohol. But this belief is heavily debatable," Cable said.

The booze business coming to a non-legally-binding agreement on ethical issues is nothing new. For instance, up until 1996, liquor companies voluntary agreed not to advertise on TV. But what makes the age gate issue especially interesting is that, according to Cable, restricting access to information about alcohol may do more harm than good.

"In looking at laws in various other countries around the world, we see that sometimes more access to and knowledge about drugs and alcohol has a better effect on harm reduction than less access and knowledge," Cable said.

Additionally, forcing someone to disclose their age to use a site opens another can of worms: the potential for computer fraud. "Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), persons under the legal drinking age (LDA) face criminal charges when they lie about their age," Cable told HuffPo. "In doing so, said users inherently violate the terms of use for the website and accordingly the CFAA. Violations of the CFAA can result in serious consequences."

Obviously, Cable's take is just one person's opinion. Proponents of age gates can probably cite evidence to the contrary. However, it is interesting to know that age verification isn't legally binding. And even more interesting to know that putting in your birthday in as April 1, 1900 as a joke could lead to "serious consequences."

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