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News Brief: Border Security, Facebook User Data

Apr 5, 2018
Originally published on April 5, 2018 7:50 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has ordered the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, the president yesterday directed the Department of Defense and also the Department of Homeland Security to work with border state governors to come up with a plan here. The administration is not providing many details, but they did emphasize that they think extra security is needed to stop immigrants from entering the country illegally. And it is worth saying here that last year, arrests for illegal border crossings were actually at their lowest level since 1971.

MARTIN: All right, let's bring in NPR's John Burnett, who's been covering immigration for a long time at the border. He joins us from member station KRTS in Marfa, Texas.

Hey, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is something other presidents have done - right? - deployed the National Guard to the border when the situation's really urgent. But just as David pointed out, and as you have reported before, border crossings - illegal border crossings and those arrests are actually down. So what's the urgency?

BURNETT: Well, Trump said the troops are needed on the border until more of the wall can be built. Yesterday, his homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, gave this explanation in a briefing to reporters.

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KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: We continue to see unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, transnational criminal organizations and illegal immigration flow across our border. This threatens not only the safety of our communities and children, but also our very rule of law.

BURNETT: The administration has been really frustrated. The so-called Trump effect is wearing off. Remember, right after he came into office, immigrants were afraid to come, and apprehensions, which are a rough measure of illegal crossings, dropped sharply. Trump bragged at the time that he'd finally gotten the border under control, and now the numbers are creeping back up, not necessarily among Mexican men who cross the border to find work, but among family groups and even children traveling alone that are coming up from Central America. They say they're fleeing...

MARTIN: So numbers are rising a little bit, at least.

BURNETT: They absolutely are. And they say they're fleeing murderous gangs, and they've taken - that they have taken over these neighborhoods in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The administration says that they're using pretexts to ask for asylum, that they're actually scamming the system.

MARTIN: What have you heard from people on the border?

BURNETT: Well, you know, today, fewer people are being apprehended than in the last 47 years. They're far lower than when George Bush or Barack Obama called out the National Guard to the border when they were presidents. But that being said, the Border Patrol - the agents tell me that the crossers are more emboldened than in the - in the last few months. They - because the Trump effect is wearing off, they're seeing these large groups of women with children, of unaccompanied kids. And both of them get special treatment under the law. The Border Patrol calls it catch and release. Under the law, they detain the immigrants for a while. Then they have to release them until they wait for their day in immigration court. And the administration says they want to change the laws, speed up the deportation process and narrow the door to asylum. But, of course, this is the law. They can present themselves at the border, and they can ask for asylum.

MARTIN: Right. All right, so based on the other times that this has happened, what do we expect the deployment to look like?

BURNETT: Well, if the past is a guide, the previous Guard deployments cost the federal government well over a billion dollars. Soldiers were used for surveillance. They put them in towers with night vision goggles. They assisted in narcotics interdictions. They helped process undocumented crossers and allowed the Border Patrol to get back to the line.

MARTIN: Right.

BURNETT: And what the National Guard cannot do is arrest people who cross the border illegally. That's the job of federal immigration agents.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's John Burnett for us. Thanks so much John.

BURNETT: You bet, Rachel.

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MARTIN: All right, it looks like the firm Cambridge Analytica took data from more Facebook users than we previously thought.

GREENE: More as in 87 million. That is how many people may have had their information compromised here. Facebook says malicious actors took advantage of the platform's search tools to get their hands on this data. Now, if Cambridge Analytica, this data analytics firm contracted by President Trump's 2016 campaign, held this much information, it just really is a lot more than first reported.

MARTIN: Right. And now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before Congress. Here he is in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: It's clear now that we didn't do enough. We didn't focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech in addition to developers and data privacy.

MARTIN: All right, I am joined now by David Ingram. He's a tech correspondent for Reuters.

So David, Zuckerberg spoke to reporters yesterday on that conference call, as we just heard. He's saying, hey, we're sorry; we didn't focus enough on this abuse. What else did you learn from that call?

DAVID INGRAM: Well, one of the main interesting things here is that Facebook has stepped up how much they're engaging with the media. So this call yesterday that Zuckerberg had with hundreds of reporters is something that's very unusual for the company. And he answered a wide range of questions, saying that he thought he was still the right person to lead Facebook, and he talked...

MARTIN: Because people had questioned whether or not that was true?

INGRAM: That's true, yeah. I mean, he has been - he was the founder of Facebook. He's been in charge of it since the beginning. And the question is lingering about whether, given all of the scandals that have consumed Facebook over the last year, year and a half, he is really the best person to lead the company.

MARTIN: So they are trying to be more transparent, sounds like. But what concrete steps are they taking, if any, to actually secure this data?

INGRAM: So a few things. And let's be clear that once data leaves a company as happened here, it's really difficult, according to experts, for - if not impossible for it to be recovered. So this data went to Cambridge Analytica in 2014, 2015, and it is probably going to be difficult or impossible for Facebook to track down where that is now. But they are cracking down on third-party app developers and the data that they have access to now. So the rules were much more lax at Facebook from 2010 to 2015. They're tightening up those rules now.

MARTIN: In part because of pressure in Europe, right? For all the users over there, the privacy rules are stricter.

INGRAM: That's a big part of it. There's a big, new privacy law that is taking effect in Europe next month that is prompting Facebook to change the way it does business all over the world. And it's going to be much more pro-consumer.

MARTIN: What is Mark Zuckerberg going to say that will satisfy lawmakers on Capitol Hill who want a lot of answers right now?

INGRAM: Well, I think we're going to hear lots of different perspectives from lawmakers next week. There are going to be members of Congress who push for a European-style privacy law in the United States. I think there are also going to be lawmakers who are going to be very skeptical of any kind of regulation like that, that they might trust the companies to regulate themselves. But I think there'll be a general sense that Facebook has become so enormous and there's been so little oversight that there needs to be accountability from somewhere.

MARTIN: And lawmakers want - right. And they want to figure out what that looks like. Reuters' David Ingram. We reached him on Skype. David, thank you so much.

INGRAM: My pleasure.

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MARTIN: OK. Yet another member of President Trump's Cabinet is forced to defend himself against allegations that he broke ethics rules.

GREENE: Yeah. This time, we're talking about Scott Pruitt. He's heading - he's the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He's facing a lot of scrutiny about a condo he rented from the wife of an energy lobbyist. He was paying $50 a night, which is a pretty good deal, especially in the nation's capital. And just the optics, from an ethics standpoint, do not look good here. Pruitt went on Fox News last night to explain himself.

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SCOTT PRUITT: It was like an Airbnb situation. When I was not there, the landlord, they had access to the entirety of the facility. When I was there, I only had access to a room. There were common areas. They used the facility at the same time that I was there. So this was...

ED HENRY: So you only paid for the nights you rent that you were there.

PRUITT: That's exactly right.

HENRY: So - but that's kind of a sweetheart deal because, like, your house...

PRUITT: No, it's not.

MARTIN: All right, we're joined by NPR's Domenico Montanaro on this.

So Domenico, the rub here is that this condo is owned - at least, in part - by an energy lobbyist. And is there some kind of suggestion that Pruitt may have greenlighted some kind of deal that would've benefited her?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, look, this lobbyist had some business before the EPA, first of all. But second of all, it's just the appearance of the fact that he's getting this cut-rate deal. And it's not the only controversy, you know? There's a series of controversy from significant pay raises given to two of his political appointees that are close to him - that the White House, by the way, Rachel, rejected, and then it was done anyway. He says he didn't know about that and that it was done without his knowledge. And there's news overnight that the EPA's ethics chief now says he did not have all the information on the details of Pruitt's lease on that apartment rental before ethics officials' review was released last month. That review seemed to clear Pruitt of wrongdoing but now looks like it's going to be opened back up.

MARTIN: But the White House says it still supports him, right?

MONTANARO: Eh, kind of.

MARTIN: Kind of?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: What's going on?

MONTANARO: I mean, if you define support as not fired yet...

MARTIN: OK, well...

MONTANARO: ...Then yes, because...

MARTIN: For now.

MONTANARO: Yesterday, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was asked about this and said that the president is not happy with the behavior of Pruitt, that the president's not OK with it, that we're reviewing the situation, and we've had a chance to have a deeper - when we've had a chance to take a deeper dive on it, we'll let you know the outcome. Now, Rachel, if your boss said that, you know, she's not sure if she has confidence in you and they're reviewing the situation, that's a problem.

MARTIN: Right. And just to take a step back, I mean, there's been turmoil at many of these agencies. I mean, there have been several Cabinet secretaries who've been embroiled in these ethics violations. It affects the people who are doing the work, I imagine.

MONTANARO: Absolutely, undermining the missions at a lot of these agencies from the EPA to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, HUD, and on and on.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Domenico Montanaro for us this morning. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILANTHROPE'S "FLOAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.