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. Corporate 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.

The Listeners: A History of Wiretapping in the United States now available for pre-order at Amazon and Harvard University Press.

“Meticulously combing through Supreme Court opinions, trial transcripts, and even pulp fiction, Hochman traces how political, corporate, and popular opinions of wiretapping evolved from the invention of the telegraph in the mid–19th century through the war on drugs in the 1990s. . . . This is an essential and immersive look at ‘what happens when we sideline privacy concerns in the interest of profit motives and police imperatives.'”Publisher’s Weekly

“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 America

“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 Networked 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

“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, author of Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World

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