I came home today to find—once again—a member of the government going through my underwear drawer. This time it was Theresa May, and she was accompanied by two unsmiling policemen. They appeared to be methodically checking each and every item, and taking down details of the brand, colour, and a note of how used they appeared.
“Excuse me,” I cried indignantly, “but what on Earth do you think you’re doing?”
Theresa gave me a smile, or at least made a grimace that approximated one. “It’s perfectly alright,” she said, “we’re just recording some metadata, exactly as the bill I currently have before Parliament allows, and checking for any naughty pants you may be in possession of.”
“Well can I see your warrant, then?” I asked.
“Of course not!” laughed Theresa merrily, as she inspected an elderly pair of boxer briefs for infelicitously-located holes. “Under our proposed legislation the entire contents of everyone’s underwear drawers will be open to the police without the need for a warrant.”
I was appalled. “But this is tantamount to a police state! What possible business is it of the police what underwear I wear, unless they have very good reason to suspect that I wear naughty pants—good enough reason to present before a judge and obtain authorization to examine my (ahem) drawers drawer?”
“But you don’t appear to have any naughty pants,” said Theresa, rubbing her fingers along the waistband of my favourite lucky pants and covertly sniffing them, “and as my former colleague pointed out to you: if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear.”
“That is the most chilling defence of mass surveillance,” I retorted, “and also quite simply untrue. There are plenty of pants that, though not naughty, are nevertheless tasteless and embarrassing. I used to own a leopardskin-print posing pouch:1 it was not by any means naughty, but it was highly embarrassing. I have every right as a private individual to not have my ownership thereof known to the police, or to anyone.”
“But it’s perfectly alright,” said Theresa, surreptitiously but appreciatively stroking my one pair of posh-night-out silk boxers. “If it’s not actually naughty, the police aren’t interested in your leopardskin pouch.”
“That’s not true, for three reasons. Firstly, though I own no naughty pants, as the police are going through everyone’s underwear drawer, they may find that most people who own leopardskin posing pouches do also own naughty items. Suspicion of owning naughty items will therefore be cast upon me, and I may be required as a result to prove a negative—that I have none hidden away anywhere—which constitutes another small chip away at the edifice of innocent until proven guilty.
“Secondly, whilst it makes it very easy for the police to find people who own one or two pieces of naughty lingerie, the routine wearers of these shocking items—let alone those who manufacture, sell, and encourage others to wear them—will already be quite alert to this legislation and will have long since taken steps to circumvent it, such as keeping their naughty items in their socks drawer, or only using public lockers for underwear storage. This, combined with the pressurized environment of massively reduced funding within a targets-driven culture, risks shifting the police’s attention to minor miscreants who are easy to pick up, rather than the drivers and builders of the naughty lingerie industry. It is equivalent to pursuing occasional and casual drugs users rather than the gangs who traffic and push them.
“Finally, it presumes that the police are both competent and benign, when they are demonstrably neither. In 2005 they killed a man precisely because they got confused due to his underwear drawer being next to another one which they considered suspicious. Despite the staggering and malign incompetence of this act, no-one from the police force has ever been censured in any way for it and indeed the woman who oversaw this extrajudicial execution—because if you hold someone down and shoot them in the head eleven times, that is an execution—was promoted soon after, and has a distinguished service medal. The police have also already spent a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money raiding the underwear drawers of people such as the mother of a murdered teenager who has spent twenty years trying to hold them to account for the corruption and incompetence in their handling of the case, and non-violent environmental activists—rather notoriously the police seem to at least have been indifferent to, and probably actively encouraging of, their covert panty-sniffers actually climbing into the pants in question.”
“Well that’s an entirely different matter,” Theresa replied, “I have been clear that covert operations require great oversight, and have commissioned a review into these practices.”
“Well I’d argue that the two issues are not so different,” I answered. “Both pertain to the police’s access to the private behaviour of private individuals, and the oversight of them in obtaining such access. In the one case you have appeared to endorse strong oversight—though I note you have repeatedly avoided commenting on the conclusions of precisely that review you so proudly trumpeted—yet in the other case you are endorsing utterly unfettered access with no oversight.
“And there’s a final issue concerning this,” I went on, “pointed out by David Allen Green. Your own government’s attitude towards the publicly-funded underpants that they themselves wear is in stark contrast to their attitude towards my private underpants. When the Independent newspaper sought to obtain a list of your very own publicly-funded panties—not your private ones, just those that we have paid for—your office refused to divulge this information, claiming the request was “vexatious.” We have already been excluded from knowing anything about the extremely expensive underwear that we, the taxpayers, provide for Mrs Windsor and her family. And now your government is attempting to water down the Freedom of Information Act yet further, to create “safe spaces” for policy meetings. So whilst you appear to consider the private underwear of private individuals to be open season for the police force, you are attempting to obscure from us the publicly-funded underwear worn by public servants when going about their public duties. Is this not the rankest hypocrisy?”
Theresa shrugged, indifferently, and nodded approvingly to the policeman who had taken up a pair of decidedly naughty crotchless panties. “Looks like we found something after all,” she said.
I was genuinely surprised to see them. “Those aren’t mine!” I cried. “They must have been left there by a guest, or got mixed up in my washing at a public launderette, or it could even be someone has created a little robot that puts naughty underwear in innocent people’s drawers.”
“Oh we don’t care about that!” she laughed. “If they’re in your drawers we’re going to presume they’re yours. Now, why don’t you leave off this whole inconvenient discussion? Or perhaps you’d like us to take naughty-panty action against you?”
“But this is just blackmail!” I cried again. “You are using the broad remit of your laws coupled with a narrow interpretation of responsibility to hound me into conformance with your agenda.”
“Really?” Theresa smiled, knowingly. “Well fancy that…”