The government’s porn block is a hideous example of paternalism at its worst │ Ben Harris

Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, there’s a lot to criticise the outgoing government for. One of the few things most people can agree on right now is that Theresa May has been among the worst Prime Ministers in living memory.

And yet despite all the debate surrounding her legacy, one of her most hideous policies is one that many are not even aware of – the online pornography age verification scheme.

Put simply, the government will soon be introducing a blanket block on all commercial pornography websites from being accessed from the UK, with users having to verify their age before being allowed to enter.

The main problem with this policy is that to have their age verified, users will have to hand over sensitive personal information (such as credit card, passport or diving licence details) to third-party age verification companies. The potential for trouble with this plan barely needs pointing out. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the growth of the internet, it’s that private data often doesn’t stay private for long.

It is thus not hard to imagine a situation whereby highly sensitive, private information on the porn habits of millions of people gets accidentally released to the wider world. Worse still are the opportunities this will open up to tech-savvy criminals, who can and inevitably will steal this private information in order to blackmail individuals.

So why is the government so intent on implementing such a flawed system? As with many of the illiberal, authoritarian policies proposed by the May government, this is all being done in the name of “protecting children”.

Supporters of the age verification plan argue that these measures are needed to stop children from accidentally stumbling onto pornography while using the internet.

Aside from the fact that it’s actually not that easy to simply happen across online pornography when you’re not explicitly looking for it, this also demonstrates a growing trend in British society where it is the government, not parents, which is seen as the chief guardian of children.

Indeed, this attitude was exemplified in Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, who when asked on Twitter recently whether he would reverse the plans, responded “No sorry I think we should protect kids from porn”, before mentioning his own young children, glossing over his own responsibilities as a parent and seemingly implying that these responsibilities should be outsourced to the government.

That Hunt isn’t likely to win the contest matters little. The fact that such regressive policy was created by a Conservative government shows just how much this once great party has regressed in recent years.

Where once the Conservatives championed small government and giving individuals more control over their own lives, now they seek to squeeze the all-watching eye of the state into every nook and cranny of our lives.

This is however not a new ideology – it’s merely an evolution of old-fashioned Tory paternalism.

While the Tory paternalism of the 50s and 60s stressed the importance of the government in upholding some arbitrary form of moral order, the 21st century paternalism instead places its focus on the state stepping in to “protect” the health and well-being of its citizens, particularly children. This can be seen with other awful policies such as the Sugar Tax.

While this may sound nice in theory, in practice the end result is that adults are treated like children by the government, and lazy parents are given the green light to abdicate their responsibilities even further.

Do I think children should be consuming pornography? Of course not. However, it is up to parents to supervise their children and make use of the already existing plethora of parental controls to make sure that their children avoid inappropriate content online.

Furthermore, for the children and teenagers who do want to access porn, there is little the government can do anyway. Kids are remarkably good with technology and, given that these age verification checks can be bypassed through the use of proxies or VPNs, it is incredibly naive to think that they will be stopped by something as rudimentary as a block.

In the end, we don’t even know whether this scheme will actually go ahead. Unsurprisingly, it has been beset by issues and has had to be repeatedly delayed.

Nonetheless, we cannot rely on government incompetence to save us from Orwellian power grabs. If we do not stand up to 21st century paternalism and the ever-growing encroachment of the government into our daily lives, there’s no telling what dark path we will be led down.

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