On the face of it, Sukey, the mobile phone application launched to much fanfare in the mainstream press, seems like a good idea. Sukey is designed as a: “a multi-platform news, communications and logistical support system designed to ensure safety for protesters during demonstrations”.
The question is how safe is Sukey. A recent statement concerning their relationship with the police has caused some controversy. Sukey have said that they intend information provided by the police to be treated the same of information received by protesters and that: “Sukey are prepared to provide a point of contact for cooperating forces to help in getting their messages out to the protesters where there is a public order interest in doing so”.
More worryingly, elsewhere Sukey say: “If you come along to demonstrations intent on rioting, causing damage, fighting cops, or just generally being an anti-social idiot then Sukey is not for you”.
Below is a copy of the minutes of a recent meeting between Sukey representatives and Senior Public Order filth, during which they discuss how they might be able to co-operate. Also included at the end is a cosy letter to the police from one of the Sukey team. Sukey have claimed they would be publishing these minutes, but it appears they were only going to do so once they were approved by the police. In any event there is no mention of meeting with the police on their website despite it happening several weeks ago.
The minutes highlight a lack of experience on Sukey’s part as Julia Pendry and her snouts clearly treat the meeting as an intelligence gathering operation, whilst giving absolutely nothing away (except for their rather amusing failure to grasp modern technology). Whilst not irredeemably damning, smacking more of naivety than genuine collusion, the minutes should be read by anyone who plans to make use of Sukey.
Sukey claim they will keep information anonymous and confidential. The question is whether a group with such a cosy relationship with senior cops, and who dismiss some protesters as anti-social idiots, can really be trusted as a secure communications network. Or whether they be placed in the same category as Liberty legal observers, TUC bouncers and all the other soft cops the Met are recruiting in an attempt to undermine any genuine resistance out on the street.
The documents are published in full, without any amendments, below. Names have been hidden in some cases.
Important notice: These minutes are in a draft state and are not for publication. The accuracy of the content has not been agreed by any of the parties involved.
These minutes are not a verbatim copy of the discussions. They contain all main points as raised but may miss minor details and may not be phrased exactly as originally discussed. Please highlight line by line where there are any issues and explain them before returning to us. Could you please also correct any title/rank by your name.
Location: Room 713, New Scotland Yard
Start Time: 1240 PM
BG Bxxx Gxxx (Sukey)
TB Txxx Bxxxx (Sukey)
ES Emma Stroud – Press Officer (Metropolitan Police Service)
SB Sgt Mark Bradford (Metropolitan Police Service)
CM Constable Jim McAllister (Metropolitan Police Service)
DH Supt Chief of Staff David Hartshorn (Metropolitan Police Service Public Order Branch)
JP Supt Julia Pendry (Metropolitan Police Service Public Order Branch)
JP was unavailable for the early part of the meeting and those present agreed to start without her.
BG explained that he’d like to minute the meeting and proposed that minutes would be sent to the Met to confirm veracity/avoid misunderstandings, and after agreement would be made public on the Sukey Website.
DH & ES Agreed to the proposal.
BG Gave a short slide presentation setting the agenda, explaining what Sukey seeks to achieve, who is behind it, and what the Sukey teams objectives were for the meeting. He explained that Sukey would not be available for the police to use for intelligence gathering, but was being offered as a communications tool that would allow the met to better communicate with demonstrators, which in turn would provide the met with more ‘soft’ options in dealing with issues arising during the demonstrations. He went on to give fictional examples of the types of messages that Sukey would want to transmit (described as ‘helpful to the demonstrator’) and those that Sukey would not transmit (described as ‘didactic or failing to provide information the demonstrator would find useful’).
BG completed his presentation with some facts and figures that demonstrated the reasons for his confidence of succesful takeup of Sukey for the student protests scheduled for the 29th. He stated that the UCL Occupation twitter account (managed by members of the Sukey team) had over 4,500 followers, many of whom would be attending the protest, and that in the ten hours since the Sukey website had been launched it had attracted over 6,000 visitors, the vast majority of whom went on to view the website in depth. He stated that the original target of 2,000 users at the start of the protest and 4,000 by the end had now been revised upwards to 4,000 at the start rising to 5,000+ by the end.
The slide presentation given by BG is attached to these minutes as sukey1.odp
BG demonstrated the application using the Roar walkthrough from the Sukey website (http://sukey.org/tutorial)
JP joined the meeting during the walkthrough.
BG Explained the difference between Sukey Roar and Sukey Growl – He explained that Sukey Roar is the ‘smart phone’ version and that Sukey Growl runs on any phone capable of sending and receiving SMS text messages.
BG summarised the part of the meeting that JP had missed and discussed how important it will be for the Sukey userbase to understand the form and content of any meetings the Sukey team have had with the met police. He explained that it was important to the Sukey team that discussions between Sukey and the met were kept open and transparent to Sukey users and that minutes would be published on the Sukey website for this reason.
JP asked whether the Sukey team were hoping to reach agreement in time for the fees protest on the 29th.
BG confirmed that it was one of the objectives.
JP explained that the decision making process on such issues could not be resolved in time for the 29th but reaffirmed that any help with communications is of interest to the met.
ES agreed with JP and added that messages must be helpful not didactic.
JP stated that reaching more people has to be a good thing,
ES said that the ability to reach people in a specific area is also likely to be useful.
DH asked what the name “Sukey” means and why had it been chosen.
BG replied that “Polly put the kettle on and Sukey took it off”.
JP stated that although the met prefer the word ‘containment’, they recognise that among demonstrators it is known as kettling and so we may as well use the term “kettle” for the meeting.
DH asked what benefit Sukey brings over the existing approach of using the met’s existing twitter accounts. He also asked if Sukey were looking for the met’s endorsement.
BG said that Sukey were not seeking endorsement from the met, and that Sukey addressed a need that would ensure its success without the need for such an endorsement. He then voiced his opinion that Sukey would immediately attract a far wider audience than the met could hope to achieve alone.
DH asks how process might work from the point where the met decide what message they want to send to the point where the message was broadcast.
BG explained that the met would not have direct access to the system but that messages could be relayed to a contact in Sukey’s back office team.
JP asked what Sukey’s users think of Sukey talking to the met and whether a sample had been polled for opinions.
BG answered that they have concerns but the Sukey team hoped and expected to work these out. BG also said that a joint press release might be part of the way in which the concerns were addressed.
ES explained that such a press release would be unlikely in the immediate future.
JP pointed out that any message the met might want to send through Sukey must not be modified in any way.
BG proposed that a set of guidelines for messages would be agreed (eg Must be perceived by the reader as helpful), and suggested that any proposed message sent to the Sukey contact would be checked by a Sukey team member against those guidelines. Messages that were adjudged by the Sukey team to have passed the criteria would be immediately broadcast, messages that didn’t pass would be returned to the met with an explanation of why the message was rejected, for the met to reword and resubmit.
JP asked for the opinion of others in the room.
DH stated that it appeared to have good potential.
DH and ES stated they were wary of committing to an opinion without first taking time to think things through in detail.
DH suggested that the Sukey team picks up and rebroadcasts C011 tweets for the fees protest.
BG stated that the Sukey team could certainly pick the C011 messages up and offered to ask the technical team whether it was possible to make the infrastructure changes required to integrate them into the Sukey feed in time for the protest.
BG proposed that the met use the #sukey tag in their tweets which would enable the existing Sukey setup to detect and rebroadcast messages as a minimum for the 29th
MB stated that it was possible but unlikely.
DH and MB Asked if Sukey will be used for other demonstrations.
BG explained that after the 29th the intention is to release the software as ‘open source’ for anyone to use.
JP asked who will control the software once it has become open source.
BG explained that there will always be a group controlling the system and helping others to maximise benefits of using it – but that they are unlikely to be involved in the day to day running of the software for every demonstration at which it is used. He gave an example of the Sukey team having already received requests to configure the system for use in Egypt and said that if it were to be used in Egypt then it would probably be hosted and operated by Egyptian nationals.
T. – I don’t remember this bit very well but it’s probably key for the met – any chance you could expand on it? BG
met reviewers – if you have better recollection of below then please amend/expand. Otherwise I’ll keep it in the published minutes with a note to the effect of: “The minutes are a little unclear here but the gist was a discussion that explained how messages received by Sukey from new contributors are read by the Sukey team and ranked and scored prior to transmission until the point where that contributor has been adjudged to meet the Sukey “Not A Troll” threshold, after which their incoming messages are routed through to publication without intervention”
JM – Asks if we would you be uncomfortable sending out messages to certain groups
DH – Asks if it depends on the message
BG – Explains that we do not let all messages through
TB – Explains that we use a scoring system that ranks sources on trust
JP – Explains that the met would like to be trusted and that if something external to a demonstration happens that affects safety they would like it communicated as effectively as possible
DH asked how Sukey is funded.
BG explained that it isn’t funded and that the team are all volunteers and give of their time freely. He explained that Sukey has, for example, been donated free web hosting and London office space to work from.
JP stated that although full agreement is not achievable for the 29th it would be foolhardy, in the event of an emergency (eg building collapse) to not use Sukey to communicate evacuation instructions.
BG agreed that we must be able to communicate in case of emergency at a minimum
BG mentioned Sir Hugh Orde’s comments in yesterday’s Guardian which stated that the met are falling behind on the use of social networking and the internet and Sir Hugh’s statement that things must change.
DH and JP commented that they know the met is behind on using social networking, and that they want to move ahead but in the right way. The met believe that they may have made mistakes in their approach in the past.
ES asked how Sukey would deal with a confrontational situation.
BG answered that he did not know at this point, but that one of the Sukey team’s objectives is to try to preempt and isolate confrontational situations, keeping moderate protesters ‘sensible’ and uninvolved through the use of good communications.
JP explained that the met is aware it has communications issues and is falling behind the times. She stated that sometimes communications can be embarrassing as sometimes by the time the wording has been approved and readied the communication is already out of date, the spokesman knows it’s out of date and yet still has to stick to the approved wording.
JP asked if Sukey will be used in Manchester on the 29th
BG answered that it was the original intention to have it available for both but the Sukey team ran out of development time and so are not yet ready to work with simultaneous demonstrations.
DH asked about Sukeys use at smaller scale regular demonstrations such as UKuncut
BG answered that it is not likely to be of use in such a situation and that communications must be accurate.
This bit doesn’t seem to hang together – is something missing or in the wrong order? – BG
No. The topics kept changing at this point in the meeting, I have listed them in the order they came up. – TB.
TB described his perception of a @CO11metpolice tweet on the 9/12/10 that had stated toilets were available in a containment area. The information was untrue and so helped fuel mistrust of the demonstrators in C011 tweets.
DH explained that demonstrations move rapidly and that although operational communications are fast, messages sent out to the public are slower than they would like
JP described an interview she gave for Sky on 9/12/10 in which she had said that protesters could leave via Whitehall . By the time the information was broadcast the information was no longer correct and the next opportunity on Sky to correct it was an hour later
BG explained that Sukey would not suffer from these problems and would be more responsive as people in the crowd will be able to see that the situation has changed and will communicate the changes back to the Sukey application in real time.
JP agreed and stated that slow communications have caused problems in the past.
JP asked how many people follow the met on twitter.
TB replied roughly 3500
DH stated that twitter was a big success for the met at Notting Hill Carnival
JP restated that at a minimum we have a way of communicating on the 29th BG and DH swapped contact details.
JP stated that they should follow us on twitter and use Sukey on the 29th, and asked if they followed UCLoccupation on 9/12/10
TB stated that they did.
BG stated that Sukey is not just for those in a demonstration but for those following from outside
MB asked how quickly Sukey can put information out from the time that information is received
BG answered that there is no latency.
JP asked how information coming in is prioritised
BG explained that Sukey prioritises senders based upon trust, not on the content of messages. Certain people known to Sukey are highly trusted and their messages are transmitted without review. Others have their earlier messages verified and earn trust until the point where their messages are also forwarded without review.
ES described a recent issue on twitter concerning the misunderstanding of a message about a “shooting” on Oxford street
JP agreed that the shooting tweet caused chaos which the met had to deal with
MB asked if messages from the met will be sent out verbatim or modified
BG said that they will be verbatim, but if the messages, in the opinion of the Sukey team, do not meet the agreed criteria they will be returned unbroadcast with an explanation.
JP commented that they would want the people prioritising messages to be as unbiased as possible, to ensure vital met messages are not impeded by any individual’s political views.
MB suggested that if it goes well a police officer could sit in with the Sukey team
JP suggested that we should keep in contact on the 29th and that too many messages can also cause problems.
BG said that a police officer sitting in is unlikely and that Sukey ranks messages on trust to stop inaccuracies going through
JP explained that the met are very careful about putting out messages as they do not want inaccurate messages to go out. They must have all the facts behind them
ES said that the met can only put out a full message with full facts
BG asked if everyone thought we were at a suitable point to wrap up the meeting
JP agreed and said that full cooperation is not possible for the 29th as it must be considered at a higher level JP asked what will happen with the notes of the meeting
BG explains that we want meetings to be transparent to our users to ensure Sukey retains their trust so they will ultimately be published on the Sukey website. He stated he would send a copy to the MPS to check before publication
The meeting finished at 1405 PM
I’m so pleased that yesterday’s protests went well. On behalf of all of the team at Sukey we’d like to thank you for including our hashtag in your tweets and for ensuring that so many of those tweets were informative and helpful for the protesters.
Sukey had a good day yesterday. We had a few technical teething problems, most of which were resolved during the day, and had to deal with a few unexpected situations as they arose. But team Sukey coped well.
On the stats side, the website had 324,572 hits on Saturday, which comprises people viewing for general information, people submitting reports, videos and photos, and people updating the various phone apps. As at midnight on 29th/30th January there had been 17,793 unique visitors to the website since the site went live. We had just over 2,300 users accessing our live services from within the London protest route, and a further 4,800 accessing the live service from all over the world. We received and processed just short of 4,500 inbound messages from protesters and supporters. We’ll have more analysis in a few days.
We were caught a little off guard by some of the splinters and by the impromptu switch to the Egyptian embassy and we will be making a team decision as to whether or not (or how) our communications, logistical and news support for protesters should continue in such a situation in future.
We will be meeting to agree and formalise a future policy for this type of situation. The policy will be published on our website.
On the day, we decided to continue to provide support for the breakaway demonstration at the Egyptian embassy, and I’m pleased we did – because it led to one of the situations that demonstrated how effective our co-operation could be.
You’ll be aware that at one point the crowd had incorrectly surmised that a kettle was about to be formed outside the embassy. We were receiving large numbers of angsty reports, photographs and videos that showed deep police lines forming at either end of south street , the arrival of riot containment equipment, and reports of overheard messages from police officers requesting containment. Our message summarising this news back to the protesters was followed shortly after by the receipt of a reassuring message from the C011 twitter account stating that ‘police were happy with the protest’ which we picked up and rebroadcast; immediately after the rebroadcast the police lines thinned and the protesters calmed.
Yesterday was a great success for all of us. Please can you extend our
team’s ‘thank-you’s to your team.
Please find below our minutes from Friday’s meeting. You’ll note that they read a little confusedly in two places, for which I apologise. I have forwarded them to you exactly as we have them, together with a preview of how I intend to annotate the confused parts in the published copy.
Please could you arrange for somebody to review the minutes and let meknow asap if you want to make any corrections or if you’re satisfied thatthey’re true and accurate. We’d like to be in a position to publish themtowards the end of the week.
We’re looking forward to providing similar support for the March 26th
protests, and we’ll possibly run some trials for some smaller protests before then – please let me know if you’d like to explore working with us further.
ps I’m sorry for the delay in sending this mail. Txx Bxxxx, one of the
Sukey team members who I wanted to review it and as gentle and level
headed an individual as you could ever hope to meet, has had to have itread to him after apparently receiving a direct blast to the face of MetPolice issue pepper spray whilst peacefully protesting outside Boots inOxford Street today (Sunday). You met Txxx on Friday – and I’m sure
you’ll want to join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.