As part of our quest to discover the most weird and wonderful clubs and societies, this week The Tab caught up with Dexter Lowe, president and founder of LockSoc, Southampton’s […]

As part of our quest to discover the most weird and wonderful clubs and societies, this week The Tab caught up with Dexter Lowe, president and founder of LockSoc, Southampton’s very own Lock Picking Society.

1)    So, what exactly does your society do?

Put simply, we meet every week and learn how security works. We try picking the locks in our collection that we have not yet beaten; a challenge that has been compared to doing a rubix cube in the dark, which is a pretty good description. I always bring along some biscuits or chocolate for people to snack on and sometimes a prize for anyone who can beat a challenge. We have a document that lists who has the current fastest time and occasionally we have races. If there are any newcomers, I usually take one of the transparent locks and explain the basics of how to pick a yale lock (the kind of lock that is used on most houses in the EU). The same techniques also work on most wafer, double sided wafer and Euro locks, as well as tubular locks (the kind you see on vending machines), although these ones do have their own specialist picks which make it a LOT easier.

There are also many ways to pick a lock without even using picks. We learn as much as we can about as many different security technologies as possible which allow us to should we ever need to select the best sort of security for our own or our friends’ homes.

2) ….Isn’t lock picking illegal?

This is one of the most interesting and common questions I get asked. Yes is the simple answer, but there is no actual crime called ’lockpicking’- the crime is “Going equipped for a burglary”. It is perfectly legal to own most kinds of lockpick and use them on any locks that you either own or have been given permission to pick by the owner of the lock. By this I mean that if you are locked out of your rented house the landlord owns the lock so without his explicit permission you are not allowed to pick or bypass the lock.

It’s all about context, so to be safe I always carry at least one practice lock in my bag and have my picks, then if I ever get stopped I can say it is for locksport and teaching others, as locksport is a valid and legal multinational sport. The only time it is really illegal is if you break the one rule: “Only pick those locks that you own or have been given explicit permission to pick by the owner of the lock”. One of the members of my society is in fact a police officer and I have confirmed with the police that there is nothing illegal about what we do.

3) What is your role in the society?

I am the founder and president. Mostly, my role involves turning up, letting people into the building, bringing the snacks and bringing the locks and picks. At the moment our society does not have any fees at all so it is free for anyone to come along and have some fun!

4) Why did you decide to set up the society?

I was watching an episode of White Collar where the main character was picking a lock and afterwards came across this article. With the episode fresh in my mind, I chose to read it and I was so intrigued. I found a lockpick source (withoutakey.co.uk) and bought some picks and a lock and… miserably failed to pick it. Back to the drawing board.

This time, I bought a practice transparent lock and picked it in moments. After I had the hang of it, I went back to the house lock I had bought and in about an hour I had done i. The feeling was amazing and I wanted to show other people how easy it really was, and the amount of interest this generated was so large I started taking down names of people who might want to meet up and learn more than I could show in my 5 minute slot. The rest, as they say, is history.

5) What’s the best thing about your society?

When you teach somebody else the skill of lock-picking. Particularly at parties, pulling out some lock picks is a conversation starter if I ever saw one. I am quite talkative once I get going but rarely talk to new people. That is, until I started bringing my picks along. Many other members of the society have told me similar stories of how it really helped them open up and it gets a group talking like nothing else I have ever seen. I have met so many new people- on the bus, on the train…even members of my own family who I probably never would have spoken to at a family get together for fear of interrupting them!

6) What’s the most fun social your society has had and why?

That is a very interesting question, as the meetings themselves tend to be socials. We do have a social secretary whose nickname is “The Drunk” basically because when we were sorting out roles he was the only one who drank in the initial group. The best ever group event/social was probably the time when we took a group photo. One of the members then went and used the picture to create the weirdest picture I have ever seen by replacing everyone’s face with mine. That session was a great laugh and a joke.

We have also all gone on some localised field trips to see interesting elements of security such as using a glass walled room to show exactly why the credit card trick does not work, how the rumour came about, the tool which will make it work (mica) and the situations where due to improper door installation the credit card trick really would work.
We have a few other things up our sleeves this year but for now I think that has to be my answer.

7) Does your society have any weird traditions or stories?

The most interesting tradition I think is our nickname tradition. First impressions are so important and even though it is nothing of the sort, people like to pretend that we are some kind of thieves guild and so it is only right that we all use false names. To this end newcomers are warned that if they choose to join our society, they will be given a name agreed upon by the rest of the group based only on our first impressions. Because of this we have such odd combinations as “The Priest” who is in fact fairly prominent in the atheist society just because well… … he looked like a priest.

8) What’s the most impressive lock-picking story you can give us?

That depends, but I believe the most impressive trick is just how quick it is to teach anyone. I particularly like to cite the time when I taught my 80 year old grandparents to pick a lock and perhaps even more impressively the time I bumped into a retired teacher who I had known at school on the bus, who managed to succeed despite the bus rocking all over the place!

9) What’s the easiest type of lock to pick?

The easiest type of lock to pick is one that somebody forgot to lock…but really, the answer is wafer locks. These are the type of lock you see on most filing cabinets and a lot of the paper cupboards around campus. They use a similar mechanism to the yale locks present in most doors but using thin sheets of metal rather than pins but basically wafers tend to be easier, they are flat but large so it is easier to keep them where they should be.

10) A student gets locked out of their bedroom. What would you do?

Well that depends on whether they own the lock. If they do then I would lend them some tools if need be and see if they can get in and if not then I would have a go myself. One important point to mention is that as per the rules of Locksport International no unqualified member may represent themselves as a locksmith. If asked to pick a friend’s lock they MUST inform them that they are NOT a real locksmith and could end up damaging the lock. If the owner is still happy then you can have a go, but whether you succeed or not it is not permissible to take payment for your services, you are NOT a registered locksmith, you just so happen to know about locks. That being said real locksmiths cost a lot of money and having your friend have a go is probably going to be a lot cheaper, especially as they are not allowed to be paid :p

13) Jesters or Sobar?

Despite being a fourth year I have never been to either, but I hear people talking about Jesters more often in the group!

14) And finally a key one…Soton Tab or Wessex Scene?

Soton Tab, of course 😉

Fancy joining LockSoc? Visit their facebook group here