Eavesdropping is the act of surreptitiously listening to a private conversation. This is commonly thought to be
unethicaland there is an old adagethat "eavesdroppers seldom hear anything good of themselves".citation|url=http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=7TNlFlL19AcC|pages=46|title=Consumers in the Country|author=Ronald R. Kline|isbn=9780801862489]
Anglo-Saxon lawpunished eavesdroppers, who skulked in the eavesdripof another's home, with a fine; the eavesdrip was also sometimes called the eavesdrop. Eavesdrop also means a small low visibility hole near the entrance to a building (generally under the eaves) which would allow the occupants to listen in on the conversation of people awaiting admission to the house. Typically this would allow the occupant to be prepared for unfriendly visitors.
telephonesystems shared party lines which would allow the sharing subscribers to listen to each others conversations. This was a common practise in rural America which resulted in many incidents and feuds.
Eavesdropping can also be done over
telephonelines ( wiretapping), instant messaging, and other methods of communicationconsidered private. (If a message is publicly broadcast, witnessing it does not count as eavesdropping.)
In ancient China, it is said that to prevent eavesdropping when discussing important matters, soldiers would instead draw the characters on hands or papers. This is where the superstition of the "black dot" on a piece of paper comes from.
Eavesdropping in fiction
Eavesdropping is something of a
clichéd plot devicein fiction, allowing the hero or villain to gain vital information not easily obtainable by other means by deliberately or accidentally overhearing a conversation. For instance, in " Letting In the Jungle" by Rudyard Kipling, Mowglioverhears the hunter Buldeotelling some men that Mowgli's adopted mother Messua is about to be executed, so Mowgli sets about rescuing her.
Katz v. United States(1967)
NSA warrantless surveillance controversy(December 2005-2006)
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