Caption: Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis  [Tomus II, p. 303]

Caption: Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis  [Tomus II, p. 303]

In Seeing Like a State (1998), James Scott argues that legibility is of paramount importance for modern statecraft. The creation of an administrative matrix for taxation and security included a range of bureaucratic and coercive mechanisms based on fictional and simple parameters. For Scott, “The premodern state was, in many crucial respects, partially blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. . . . It lacked, for the most part, a measure, a metric, that would allow it to ‘translate’ what it knew into a common standard necessary for a synoptic view” (p. 2). But how does the modern state hear? How do sounds and sound-making practices become susceptible to state intervention? During my visiting fellowship at the MPIWG, I intend to examine the history of wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping. The Snowden files have revealed the extent to which wiretapping is now massive, systematic, transnational, and unsupervised. In Brazil, the amount and significance of state eavesdropping have increased considerably since the passing of the country’s wiretapping law in 1996. Examining recent pivotal political scandals in Brazil where leaked wiretaps have been central, I pay particular attention to the role of audio experts and legal scholars in ascertaining the validity of such recordings, and to the political and legal ramifications of these debates.