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The Listeners

A History of Wiretapping in the United States

Brian Hochman



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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
07 June 2022
They've been listening for longer than you think. A new history reveals how-and why.

Wiretapping is nearly as old as electronic communications. Telegraph operators intercepted enemy messages during the Civil War. Law enforcement agencies were listening to private telephone calls as early as 1895. Communications firms have assisted government eavesdropping programs since the early twentieth century-and they have spied on their own customers too. Such breaches of privacy once provoked outrage, but today most Americans have resigned themselves to constant electronic monitoring. How did we get from there to here?

In The Listeners, Brian Hochman shows how the wiretap evolved from a specialized intelligence-gathering tool to a mundane fact of life. He explores the origins of wiretapping in military campaigns and criminal confidence games and tracks the use of telephone taps in the US government's wars on alcohol, communism, terrorism, and crime. While high-profile eavesdropping scandals fueled public debates about national security, crime control, and the rights and liberties of individuals, wiretapping became a routine surveillance tactic for private businesses and police agencies alike.

From wayward lovers to foreign spies, from private detectives to public officials, and from the silver screen to the Supreme Court, The Listeners traces the long and surprising history of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping in the United States. Along the way, Brian Hochman considers how earlier generations of Americans confronted threats to privacy that now seem more urgent than ever.
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780674249288
ISBN 10:   0674249283
Pages:   368
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Brian Hochman is Director of American Studies and Associate Professor of English at Georgetown University. He is the author of Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology, which was a finalist for the American Studies Association's Laura Romero Prize for Best First Book.

Reviews for The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States

Brian Hochman's deeply researched, eminently readable, and intensely timely book excavates the history of electronic surveillance from the telegraph to the planetary infrastructures and corporations that have become inextricable from everyday life. Along the way, he shows how widespread resistance to wiretapping may provide a guide to addressing some of the most urgent questions about the implications of living in a fully connected world.--Trevor Paglen The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States weaves different kinds of history together in a single, compelling story about the rise of electronic surveillance, police secrecy, and technology. It's a story about how electronic surveillance has become ordinary and acceptable: how the technology and the uses for the technology developed; then, how ordinary citizens understood and experienced the technology over time.--Claire Potter, author of Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy Fast-paced, compulsively readable, artfully researched, and historically astute, The Listeners reminds us that Americans once cared about privacy--and that we should too.--Richard R. John, author of Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications Hochman's comprehensive and compelling narrative illustrates how the 'dirty business' of wiretapping has become a common and iconic feature of American life.--Cyrus Farivar, author of Habeas Data: Privacy vs. the Rise of Surveillance Tech Listen carefully to this absorbing history of wiretapping and you'll hear the tones of today's surveillance society, a century and a half in the making. Brian Hochman's splendid book reveals how a once-new technology embedded itself in American life, found novel uses, and shaped areas ranging from police tactics to privacy rights--illuminating in the process the consequences and costs of a networked world.--Sarah E. Igo, author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

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