The Conversation

Monday, November 23
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1hr 53mins // directed by:Francis Ford Coppola // featuring:Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Teri Garr

Considered by many critics to be the artistic high point of director Francis Ford Coppola’s career, The Conversation conjures a dark atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, a precursor to today’s surveillance society.  

In the film, Gene Hackman plays an obsessive loner who is hired to record the conversation of a young couple as they walk through San Francisco's Union Square. All of this is simple enough, until Hackman begins to suspect that his employer may have a darker ulterior motive. The suspenseful plot is thoroughly enhanced by the works of cinematographer Bill Butler and Oscar-nominated sound editor Walter Murch, who went on to work with Coppola on Apocalypse Now. In addition to Hackman, the film features memorable performances by John Cazale, Robert Duvall, and Harrison Ford.

In the four decades since The Conversation was released, U.S. law enforcement has increasingly turned to wiretapping and surveillance as a means to gather information. But, as cybersecurity expert Susan Landau argues, by embedding eavesdropping mechanisms into communication technology itself, we are building tools that could be turned against us and opting for short-term security and creating dangerous long-term risks. Before the film, Landau will discuss the risks posed by new wiretapping technologies. 


About the Speaker

Susan Landau is Professor of Cybersecurity Policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Department of Social Science and Policy Studies, where her research focuses on communications security and surveillance, critical infrastructure protection, identity, and privacy. She is also a Visiting Professor in the Computer Science Department at University College London. Landau is the author of Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies (MIT Press, 2011) and co-author, with Whitfield Diffie, of Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption (MIT Press, 1998, rev. ed. 2007). 

She has testified to Congress on security risks in wiretapping and on NIST's Cybersecurity Activities. Landau has been a senior staff Privacy Analyst at Google, a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Wesleyan University and has held visiting positions at Harvard, Cornell, Yale, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. A 2012 Guggenheim fellow and 2010-2011 fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Landau is the recipient of the 2008 Women of Vision Social Impact Award, and is also a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Computing Machinery.