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John Macdonald is the Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Smith Institute.

The Prime Minister is trying to reboot his political project. With major personnel replaced in Downing Street and a mini- cabinet reshuffle completed, you would hope that he was trying to return to the original promise of his electoral success in 2019; a Conservative Government that celebrated new opportunities and freer markets, rooted in a kind of common sense liberalism.

Unfortunately, the reboot seems to be more about doubling down on tax and spend, and embracing some of the worst authoritarian, petty nanny statism that pockmarked the earlier iterations of this Conservative tenure in government. A return to drab, condescending policies, in this case the so-called ‘porn laws’ that will force consumers to verify their age via credit card information to access explicit online content.

For those that don’t know the Conservative Government has been waging a war on porn since at least 2015, with the central idea being that people must use a credit card as age verification when trying to log into websites purveying explicit content.

Like many of the Conservatives’ most egregious flirtations with anti-liberal nannying (such as banning certain food advertising), age verification for access to pornographic websites has been beaten off many times, only to keep coming back without any real explanation as to how and why.

It’s not just on first principles that such a policy should be permanently abandoned. Let us accept for the sake of argument you accept the proposition that access to online porn is a societal ill, and that the state has a role in dissuading people from consuming it, or to protect the young from stumbling across it. You would have to have an outdated at best, and asinine at worst, understanding of the internet to genuinely believe that imposing online age verification would be in any way implementable.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a low cost, easily accessible and highly effective way of hiding your IP address, anonymising and protecting the user’s privacy in making it all but impossible to tell what sites they are visiting. Many popular VPN apps allow the user to connect to websites via another country, a popular feature given the way streaming rights work (i.e. US Netflix has a superior catalog to British Netflix). All one would need to do to access explicit content is hit a button on their device of choice, choose a country without such restrictions, and be good to go.

This isn’t something unbeknownst to a significant portion of the UK’s population, either. It is estimated that some 44 per cent of UK internet users have used a VPN at some point. It is somewhat entertaining to think that DCMS, a Government department whose intended purpose is to prepare the country for rapid technological advancement but instead wastes significant energy on censoriousness, could be thwarted by as little as £3 a month on an app available on all major mobile phone operating systems.

Perhaps, then, you might be inclined to think that if not practically possible, it is in principle proper to restrict access to explicit online content. Even if some degenerates skirt round the rules (bear in mind that some 26 million Brits watch online porn), people should still have to think twice about accessing it, and those under 18 should be guarded against easy or accidental access. You would still be blind to the fact that age verification mechanisms do more harm than good.

Big porn companies such as Mindgeek have argued that they will take measures to ensure no data would be collected to link credit card information and viewing habits, but whether or not this would be possible or probable is still a significant risk.

That is to say nothing of the massive target painted on their backs. With a huge repository of credit card information and the promise of ample blackmail material, you can be sure hackers will be coming after them hard and fast. Age verification mechanisms are also a scammer’s delight; the rush to access explicit content is bound to push concerns of website authenticity aside, and those who get caught out might be less inclined to report their woes to credit card companies.

The Porn Laws don’t just represent a failure of Government to understand that they cannot, and should not see itself as a protector against any all societal ills. Trying to justify them on the grounds that they protect the young betrays a naive and condescending paternalism, where greater education would serve them much better. Nearly a third of all internet content is porn, trying to stuff it away behind a verification barrier just won’t work. Instead, ensuring an honest conversation with teenagers about it, and about peer to peer pressure to send their own intimate content, would be of far more benefit.

Johnson’s Government appears to be reneging on the last of its post-May era promises. We’ve become used to the idea that he’d continue to be a tax and spend Conservative, or that after a brush with Covid and ill health, would look to stop us from having our cake and eating it by banning advertising of certain foods. But with the resurrection of the Porn Laws, any hope that Boris’ libertine spirit might seep into government has been dashed.