Apple’s battle with the FBI is being talked about as a defining moment for privacy. And it is. But the real reason why is obscured by both sides’ rhetoric.
The FBI wants Apple’s help breaking into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple has helped the government get data off locked iPhones many times in the past. But whereas on older iPhones it could do that just by bypassing the phone’s built-in security, this time it would have to write a new, less secure operating system and put it on the phone. That, says Apple, marshaling an impressive-sounding string of legal reasons, is what makes this case different—a precedent that, once set, will bend tech firms to the government’s every future whim.
But you might still ask: Is it fundamentally different? That’s the doubt the government wants to sow: Apple has drawn a line in the sand here, but couldn’t it have drawn it anywhere?
And in a sense, the government is right. For all Apple’s fancy legal arguments, something feels disingenuous in claiming that it’s OK to betray your customers’ privacy to the FBI using one technique and not another.
Yet the government’s claim is disingenuous too. It implies that everything is a continuum and there are no matters of principle. The reality, however, is that everything we now consider a matter of principle—from the ban on insider trading all the way back to “thou shalt not kill”—was once a line drawn in the sand, and only over time became a mighty barrier. Principles don’t get made until someone says “enough.”
Apple has now said “enough.” Other tech companies are joining in. Principles aren’t enshrined because of a legal wrangle over a technological quirk. They’re enshrined because someone chooses to stand and fight for them.—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
How Somalia became a cashless society. “In the streets of Mogadishu, the future has arrived,” writes Tony Onyulo. Years of conflict, a lack of banks and the spread of mobile phones have made one of the world’s poorest states an unlikely financial pioneer, adopting mobile payments at an unparalleled rate.
If Moscow builds it, will they come? Despite the crashing economy, sanctions, and millions of square meters of office lying empty, the Russian capital is still on a wild spree of building technoparks to attract startups and investors. David Lepeska tours the facilities that increasingly look like the 21st-century incarnation of the czarist era’s Potemkin villages.
America’s sick relationship with meat. American men eat too much meat for their health, yet carnivorism is plastered all over contemporary culture as a masculine trait, Deena Shanker writes. Meanwhile, women are far under-represented at the top of the meat industry, yet over-represented in meat processing plants, where injury rates are appallingly high.
At home (and work) with Bill and Melinda Gates. The Quartz video team spent some time in Seattle with the world’s biggest philanthropists and interviewed them about how a clean-energy breakthrough might still save the planet, how billionaires can bring up well-adjusted kids, and how to change a community by sharing school drop-off duties. Plus, a brief video history of Bill Gates’ little-known sense of humor.
Il Trumpo is not a joke. Silvio Berlusconi was a foul-mouthed, funny, buffoonish tycoon who nobody thought could win. ”Then one day we woke up to find our government overrun by criminals, our economy destroyed, and our cultural mores perverted to the extent that the objectification of women was commonplace.” Annalisa Merelli brings home to Americans a dire warning from her native Italy.
Also in election coverage: Sady Doyle and Hanna Kozlowska analyze the US’s love-hate relationship with Hillary Clinton, and Gwynn Guilford on the South Carolina town that has “an uncanny knack for getting big-government-hating GOP candidates to promise big government spending.”
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
The unsung movie heroes of Bollywood. In Western film-making the script supervisor is indispensable—the person who ensures continuity from shot to shot. Indian film directors hardly use them. But those few who practice the craft can become legends, as Tanul Thakur relates in this intimate look inside Bollywood for Caravan.
On not being a straight white man in Hollywood. You would not believe the things producers and casting directors say to actors who are female, queer, or of color. The New York Times’ Melena Ryzik has collected a whole raft of them. Best/worst line: “I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie. They didn’t have black people then.”
American literature’s forgotten prodigy. Pamela Moore’s first book, published when she was 18, was a runaway bestseller that should have put her in the canon with writers like Sylvia Plath and Erica Jong. But since her suicide at 26 she’s been all but forgotten. Her story, Koa Beck in Marie Claire writes, is a commentary on both the arbitrariness and the lethality of celebrity.
Make friends with your kidnappers. In January, three escaped prisoners from California’s Orange County jail held taxi driver Long Ma hostage for a week while arguing whether to kill him. Anh Do at the Los Angeles Times examines Ma’s unexpected bond with one of the captors, who saved his life, and whom he now visits in prison.
Why the Brits say “sorry” so much. For the BBC, Linda Geddes looked into the peculiar British tendency to apologize for things that they can’t control—sneezing, getting bumped into, the weather. It’s down to a “negative-politeness” culture, she says, a perfect way to describe the obscure, complex emotions that lurk beneath the surface of that famous stiff upper lip.
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