Inside Sukey the anti-kettling mobile app


The Guardian's Patrick Kingsley has a great look at the story behind Sukey, a networked tool that helps protestors in London avoid police "kettles" (when police illegally corral protestors, passers-by and residents into a small area and detain them for hours without access to food, toilets, or medicine). Sukey was used for the first time on Saturday's protests against anti-cuts march in London, and for the first time in recent history, protestors avoided kettling (their counterparts in Manchester and Edinburgh -- who don't have Sukey yet -- weren't so lucky).

I keep trying to put myself in the cops' shoes and imagining what I would do to defeat Sukey. I think throwing a lot more cops at the kettle (to make it harder to escape the cordon as it tightens) would go some way toward this, and of course, they could try to shut down mobile connectivity and/or jam WiFi in central London, but I don't think that the public would be too happy about that. They could try to inject misinformation into the system (the recent revelations about large numbers of paid provocateurs in British protest movements certainly makes this plausible), which would probably spark some countermeasures from its creators.

Mostly, I suspect they're going to try to lean on the kids who make and use Sukey, and also try to get their ISP shut down. They may even find some trumped-up charge to use ("Reporting the position of a police officer" could be "obstructing justice," with enough imagination) against anyone caught reporting or accessing Sukey. It probably won't hold up in court, but it's probably got limited efficacy as a shakedown/intimidation tactic.

What I really wonder is if the cops will ever use Sukey's built-in facility for allowing law enforcement to communicate their goals to protestors and vice-versa.

Sam Carlisle, 23, an electronics engineer who graduated from Durham, became politicised after his girlfriend was trampled in a horse-charge at the protest on 24 November. Outraged, he decided to offer his exceptional technical skills to the UCL occupation, where he met Gaus. To differentiate between the two Sams, other occupiers christened them "Sam the techie" (Carlisle), and "Techie Sam" (Gaus). Physically, the pair are chalk-and-cheese - Carlisle is pale and stocky; Gaus dark-haired and tall - but intellectually they seem united. The night before the 9 December protest, both independently came up with the same idea: a live, online map that could show people at home where protest troublespots were located.

"I came to Sam on the eighth and I said: 'I've got this great idea,'" says Gaus. "And then he showed me this flow-chart with exactly the same plan."

The map was up and running for the protest the next day, prompting excited praise from Guardian science writer Ben Goldacre and backhanded compliments from American security analysts. But though the map was an innovative development, because there was no way of quickly communicating what it showed to people on the ground, it didn't fulfil the Sams' ultimate goal: to help protesters avoid kettles.

Inside the anti-kettling HQ