Morning News Brief

Oct 9, 2018
Originally published on October 9, 2018 10:46 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Swearing in, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that he will put the polarizing fight over his nomination behind him.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. The new justice was speaking publicly for the first time since the bruising nomination process ended. Kavanaugh said he would not allow what took place to influence his decisions on the bench.

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BRETT KAVANAUGH: The Senate confirmation process was contentious and emotional. That process is over. My focus now is to be the best justice I can be. I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness.

KING: President Trump, on the other hand, took a somewhat different tone. He slammed Democrats for trying to destroy his nominee. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now.

Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what is Trump telling Republican voters?

KEITH: He is telling them that Democrats are the enemy. And that - you know, he is really playing up - rather than celebrating the victory with the Kavanaugh nomination, he's playing up the fight and trying to continue to stoke the anger that rose up as a result of how that process went.

KING: Well, we are one month out from the midterms. And elections, as you well know, are all about enthusiasm. So what is the outlook for each party in the midterms now that the Kavanaugh fight is over?

KEITH: This is just a moment in time. And there are still those weeks left. And we don't know how this is going to evolve over those weeks. But what we know is that during the fight over the Kavanaugh nomination, Republican enthusiasm spiked. We had an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that showed that just over a short week-long period, Republicans got much more enthusiastic about the midterms than they had been. Democrats, on the other hand, are fired up. They were fired up. They continue to be fired up. And many Democrats have a lot of frustration over Kavanaugh being confirmed even after those allegations of sexual assault against him.

President Trump, as I said, has really very quickly turned this to be about Democrats being, as he calls them, quote, "an angry mob." Here's what he said yesterday at an International Association of Police Chiefs (ph) meeting.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: False charges, false accusations, horrible statements that were totally untrue that he knew nothing about - frankly, terms that he probably never heard in his life. He was this. He was that. He never even heard of these terms. It was a disgraceful situation brought about by people that are evil.

KEITH: So people that are evil...

KING: Yeah.

KEITH: ...That's pretty strong language. And we can expect to hear more of that type of language in the weeks ahead. One interesting thing - there are four campaign rallies this week that President Trump is holding. And they are going to areas that were once thought to be areas where he might not go, including some suburbs.

KING: Well, is that risky - because the president is not particularly popular in the suburbs - right? What is he thinking?

KEITH: That's right. And - but there is clearly a decision that's been made here to go to areas that are seen as toss-ups in these congressional races. And it's all about the base, as they say. He's going to rile up the base.

KING: All about the base. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, she also hosts the NPR Politics podcast.

Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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KING: All right. We're moving on now to a serious data breach at Google. It happened earlier this year, but Google decided not to tell hundreds of thousands of users that their personal information may have been compromised.

GREENE: Yeah. According to a Wall Street Journal report, there was this software glitch in Google Plus. That was Google's unsuccessful answer to Facebook. So this glitch enabled outside developers to collect a user's profile data and also the private data of a user's friends.

KING: And Google executives decided, for some reason, not to make this problem public. Doug MacMillan is with me in studio. He's one of the reporters who broke this story.

Doug, thanks for coming in.

DOUG MACMILLAN: Hi. Good morning.

KING: So how long were users exposed for? And what information might these outside developers have been able to collect on them?

MACMILLAN: Yes. So the software bug existed unfixed for more than two years. It began in 2015 and was eventually fixed in March of this year. We believe that it affected personal data that people entered in their Google Plus profile. So that included their name, occupation, things like relationship status, birthdate, gender - straightforward profile information. All of that could have been potentially collected by outside developers.

KING: But outside developers would not have been able to read my Gmail, for instance.

MACMILLAN: Right. It's just this profile information.

KING: All right. So if this was discovered last spring, the big question is, why did Google executives just go public now? Why didn't they say something about it then?

MACMILLAN: That is the big question. And our reporting gets into this. This is a relatively small number of users. They're saying that they think maybe half a million users are affected. The real concern is why they didn't disclose this. They knew, potentially, these users were affected. And they did some digging. They looked into whether or not, you know, developers had misused this data. They found, ultimately, no evidence. So they decided that was a reason not to tell anybody. We don't know if any data was misused, so we have no obligation to tell people.

The real reason that we think, you know, swayed their decision was because they were afraid of how this would look. They were afraid of the PR consequences and potential regulatory scrutiny of what was going on with Facebook in the news and the Cambridge Analytica breach - that basically they would be dragged into that same story if they came out with this.

KING: So we sort of have to - if you're one of those users whose information was compromised, you sort of have to trust Google when they say, yeah, nothing bad was done with it. There is no law that says, if there's a breach, the company's got to tell consumers?

MACMILLAN: There's a patchwork of laws. They're a patchwork of state laws, and there's a new European law that addresses this. The problem is, these laws hinge on whether or not the company knew that data was improperly accessed. In this case, Google is pleading ignorance. They're saying, we don't know. We have no evidence the data was accessed. So we, therefore, have no obligation.

KING: Google's chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, testified before a Senate panel two weeks ago, and he talked about consumer trust. Let's hear what he had to say.

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KEITH ENRIGHT: We acknowledge that we have made mistakes in the past from which we've learned and improved our privacy program. We understand that the foundation of our business is trust.

KING: Based on your reporting, is that believable?

MACMILLAN: I think that they're going to have a lot of work to do to regain user trust. There's a lot of people questioning how Google handled this incident. And I think there are a lot of people generally look at these big tech companies right now who have vast influence over a lot of data in our digital lives. And I think there's a big question about user trust. The law is one thing, but our relationship with these companies and our trust with them is probably a bigger responsibility. In the end, you're going to have to start see them grapple with these issues on a day-to-day basis.

KING: And we should note that Google has said it is finally disabling Google Plus altogether. Doug MacMillan covers Google for The Wall Street Journal, and he reported this story with fellow Journal reporter Robert McMillan.

Thanks, Doug.

MACMILLAN: Thanks.

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KING: All right. Until yesterday, the head of Interpol, the international police organization based in France, was a man named Meng Hongwei. He's from China.

GREENE: Right. But a few days ago in France, Meng's wife reported that he had gone missing while he was on a visit to his native China. And then yesterday, Meng resurfaced and announced that he was resigning from Interpol, this after apparently being detained by Chinese authorities on charges of corruption.

KING: NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz has been following this story. He's with us now.

Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So what do we know about Meng?

SCHMITZ: Well, Meng Hongwei is 64 years old. He served as the vice minister of the public security bureau, which is China's national police. In 2016, he became the first Chinese head of Interpol. And his election was a big victory for China's government, which under leader Xi Jinping was eager to use Interpol to locate and extradite Chinese officials that it deemed corrupt, who had escaped China. But as it turns out, Meng himself is now under investigation by Chinese authorities for corruption.

KING: What exactly are they investigating him for?

SCHMITZ: Well, China's government hasn't released any details besides that he's under investigation for bribery and other unspecified crimes. And the little we know about how his detention unfolded has come from his wife, Grace Meng. On September 25, the day her husband arrived to China for a visit, she allegedly received a text from him that said, wait for my call, which was followed by an emoji of a knife, suggesting that he was in danger. A week later, she reported him missing to French police. On Sunday, she spoke to reporters in Lyon, France, where Interpol is headquartered. And here's what she said.

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GRACE MENG: (Through interpreter) I'm speaking on behalf of my husband, my children, all the people of my motherland - for all the wives' and children's husbands and fathers so that they may no longer disappear.

SCHMITZ: And as you can hear in that tape, Noel, she's crying during this part of the video, with her back turned to the camera because she's received threats and is under protection by French police.

KING: Well, when she talks there about the husbands and fathers who've disappeared in China, what does she mean?

SCHMITZ: Well, she's talking about the government's anti-corruption campaign. It was launched by Xi Jinping immediately after he took office in 2013. And it snared hundreds of thousands of officials, both on the local level as well as among the highest echelons of the party. In fact, the man who appointed Meng Hongwei to vice minister of public security was Zhou Yongkang, the highest-ranking Chinese official who was brought down by this campaign. Zhou was a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the group of seven men who ruled China. He was China's security czar before he was sent to prison for life in 2015.

KING: So by removing Meng from the presidency of Interpol, China is going to lose a lot of sway inside of this organization. That much is clear. What does this mean for Interpol and its relationship with China?

SCHMITZ: Well, Interpol has announced his resignation and appointed an acting president. But even before this happened, China's use of Interpol under his presidency was starting to raise a lot of red flags. They were using his position to target people that China wanted in jail but that didn't have any evidence of any wrongdoing on their case, and they were vetoed by other members of Interpol. And this case with Meng is a good example of how China's own messy politics is sort of spilling over into international organizations.

KING: Really interesting. NPR's Rob Schmitz from Shanghai.

Thanks so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLUSHII'S "SAPIENT DREAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.