Brian Hochman: The Uninvited Ear

Melbourne Law School
Fri, 27. Jul 2018
Melbourne Law School G08 185 Pelham Street, Carlton Melbourne

Electronic eavesdropping is as old as electronic communication. U.S. Civil War generals traveled with professional telegraph tappers in the 1860s. American phone companies tacitly sanctioned law enforcement wiretaps as early as 1895. And corporate communications giants abetted government eavesdropping programs for most of the twentieth century. Today, pundits and policymakers argue contentiously over the ethics of mass surveillance and global data collection. But the social and technological backstory to the rise of electronic eavesdropping in America remains largely unexamined. How did earlier generations of citizens understand and confront the problem of communications privacy? How did we get to where we are today?

In ‘The Unin­vited Ear: A His­tory of Wire­tap­ping in the United States,’ scholar Brian Hochman is the first to try to answer these questions. Com­bin­ing pri­mary research in gov­ern­ment archives with read­ings of court cases, wire thrillers, and Hol­ly­wood films, he uncov­ers the his­tory of elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping in Amer­ica from the nine­teenth cen­tury to the present, arguing that cultural contests over wiretapping constitute contests over what it means to communicate in a networked society—a society in which information needs to travel across vast distances, and a society in which technologies of all sorts enable electronic data to traverse them.

Brian Hochman is an American academic and an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at George­town Uni­ver­sity (USA) and 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)

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ongoing investigation between Liquid Architecture and Melbourne Law School.