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'The Dectectifone: A mechanically perfect device for producing the evidence' 1917. Courtesy Trade Literature Collection, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington DC.
Wiretapping is as old as wired communication. Civil War generals travelled with professional telegraph tappers in the 1860s, law enforcement agencies began planting telephone taps in the 1890s, and corporate communications giants tacitly sanctioned state and federal eavesdropping programs of various sorts for most of the twentieth century. Somewhat surprisingly, this wasn't a drama that played out in the shadows of American life. Police eavesdropping garnered front-page headlines during the 1920s, when the telephone tap emerged as an effective tool in the enforcement of Prohibition laws. The passage of the 1934 Federal Communications Act (FCA), which provided that "no person . . . shall intercept any communication and divulge or publish the existence, contents, purport, effect, or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person," sparked widespread debate over the legality and extent of third-party eavesdropping. And more than 75 articles about the practice of wiretapping—its uses, its limitations, and the technologies that made it possible—appeared in mainstream American magazines between 1934 and 1955 alone.
Join Brian Hochman of Georgetown University as he delves into the history of wiretapping in the USA. Lecture in the Melbourne Law School building, G08.
Brian Hochman is an Associate Professor of English and a Core Faculty member of American Studies and Film and Media Studies at Georgetown University, a 2017-2018 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar, and a 2018-2019 Kluge Fellow at the U.S. Library of Congress. He is the author of Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) and The Uninvited Ear: A History of Wiretapping in the United States (Harvard University Press, under contract). The Uninvited Ear starts from the premise that technologies for eavesdropping on communications have evolved as rapidly as communications technologies themselves. Third parties tapped the earliest telegraph wires and telephone networks during the nineteenth century, and the nation’s communications systems have been bugged ever since. Combining primary research in government archives and patent libraries with readings of court cases, wire thrillers, and Hollywood films, the book uncovers the history of electronic eavesdropping in America from the nineteenth century to the present.
This lecture is in the Melbourne Law School, G08
Eavesdropping is a unique collaboration between Ian Potter Museum of Art, Liquid Architecture, and the Melbourne Law School. For interstate programs in Movement 1: Overhear investigating wiretapping, the sonic episteme, sonic agency, excessive listening, forensic listening please go to the Eavesdropping website.