Eavesdropping: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eavesdropping is the act of secretly listening to the private conversation of others without their consent, as defined by Black's Law Dictionary.[1] This is commonly thought to be unethical and there is an old adage that eavesdroppers seldom hear anything good of themselves.[2]



Ancient Anglo-Saxon law punished eavesdroppers, who skulked in the eavesdrip of 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.

Early telephone systems shared party lines which would allow the sharing subscribers to listen to each others conversations. This was a common practice in rural America which resulted in many incidents and feuds.[2]


"Belly-buster" hand-audio listening devices. After assembly, the base of the drill was held firmly against the stomach while the handle was cranked manually. This kit came with several drill bits and accessories.

Eavesdropping can also be done over telephone lines (wiretapping), email, instant messaging, and other methods of communication considered private (If a message is publicly broadcast, witnessing it does not count as eavesdropping.). VoIP communications software is also vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping by via malware infections such as Trojan.Peskyspy.

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.


Hampton Court Palace outside London was the palace of King Henry VIII of England. In the eaves of its Great Hall, small faces are carved into the oak beams which lean at an angle of 45 degrees to the ground. These are known as 'Eaves Droppers'. Henry was known to be a strong ruler and often put spies in crowds of people to listen in to conversations. He wanted his staff (who slept in the Great Hall between banquets and would lie on straw looking up at the eaves) to know that he or his people would be listening at all times.

See also


  1. ^ Garner, p. 550
  2. ^ a b Ronald R. Kline (2000), Consumers in the Country, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, pp. 46, ISBN 9780801862489, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=7TNlFlL19AcC  

Simple English

Eavesdropping means to listen to things you aren't supposed to hear. It is a deliberate act, rather than simply overhearing someone else talking. Police and security forces are eavesdropping when they put a "tap" on to a person's telephone line to listen to the person's calls. Intelligence and security agencies are eavesdropping when they put an electronic listening device, a bug, into a room.

Governments and the military have also built large facilities designed to listen in to communications between other governments and military groups. For example the US has a large base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, Australia, which listens to communication signals from all over the world.

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