FBI Again Finds Itself Unable to Unlock a Gunman’s Cellphone

The Texas church massacre is providing a familiar frustration for law enforcement: FBI agents are unable to unlock the gunman’s encrypted cellphone to learn what evidence it might hold.

 

But while heart-wrenching details of the rampage that left more than two dozen people dead might revive the debate over the balance of digital privacy rights and national security, it’s not likely to prompt change anytime soon.

 

Congress has not shown a strong appetite for legislation that would force technology companies to help the government break into encrypted phones and computers. And the fiery public debate surrounding the FBI’s legal fight with Apple Inc. has largely faded since federal authorities announced they were able to access a locked phone in a terror case without the help of the technology giant.

 

As a candidate, Donald Trump called on Americans to boycott Apple unless it helped the FBI hack into the phone, but he hasn’t been as vocal as president.

 

Still, the issue re-emerged Tuesday, when Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio division, said agents had been unable to get into the cellphone belonging to Devin Patrick Kelley, who slaughtered much of the congregation in the middle of a Sunday service.

 

“It highlights an issue you’ve all heard about before. With the advance of the technology and the phones and the encryption, law enforcement is increasingly not able to get into these phones,” Combs told reporters, saying the device was being flown to an FBI lab for analysis.

 

Combs didn’t identify the make or model, but a U.S. official briefed by law enforcement told The Associated Press it was an Apple iPhone.

 

“We’re working very hard to get into that phone, and that will continue until we find an answer,” Combs said.

 

Combs was telegraphing a longstanding frustration of the FBI, which claims encryption has stymied investigations of everything from sex crimes against children to drug cases, even if they obtain a warrant for the information. Agents have been unable to retrieve data from half the mobile devices – more than 6,900 phones, computers and tablets – that they tried to access in less than a year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said last month, wading into an issue that also vexed his predecessor, James Comey. Comey spoke before Congress and elsewhere about the bureau’s inability to access digital devices. But the Obama White House never publicly supported legislation that would have forced technology companies to give the FBI a back door to encrypted information, leaving Comey’s hands tied to propose a specific legislative fix.

Bad idea, some believe

 

Security experts generally believe such encryption backdoors are a terrible idea that could expose a vast amount of private, business and government data to hackers and spies. That’s because those backdoor keys would work for bad guys as well as good guys – and the bad guys would almost immediately target them for theft, and might even be able to recreate them from scratch.

 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took aim at Silicon Valley’s methods for protecting privacy during a speech last month, saying Trump’s Justice Department would be more aggressive in seeking information from technology companies. He took a harder line than his predecessors but stopped short of saying what specific steps the administration might take.

 

Washington has proven incapable of solving a problem that an honest conversation could fix, said David Hickton, a former U.S. attorney who now directs a cyber law institute at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

“We wait for a mass disaster to sharpen the discussion about this, when we should have been talking about it since San Bernardino,” he said. “Reasonable people of good will could resolve this problem. I don’t think it’s dependent on the political wins or who is the FBI director. It’s begging for a solution.”

 

Even so, the facts of the church shooting may not make it the most powerful case against warrant-proof encryption. When the FBI took Apple to court in February 2016 to force it to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, investigators believed the device held clues about whom the couple communicated with and where they may have traveled.

 

But Combs didn’t say what investigators hoped to retrieve from Kelley’s phone, and investigators already have ample information about his motive. Authorities in Texas say the church shooting was motivated by the gunman’s family troubles, rather than terrorism, and investigators have not said whether they are seeking possible co-conspirators.

 

Investigators may have other means to get the information they seek. If the Texas gunman backed up his phone online, they can get a copy of that with a legal order – usually a warrant. They can also get warrants for any accounts he had at server-based internet services such as Facebook, Twitter and Google.

 

In the California case, the FBI ultimately broke into the phone by paying an unidentified vendor for a hacking tool to access the phone without Apple’s help, averting a court battle.

 

The FBI has not yet asked Apple for help unlocking Kelley’s phone as it continues to analyze the device, according to the U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and did so on condition of anonymity. Another person familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the discussions, said Apple contacted the FBI on its own to offer technical advice after learning from a Texas news conference that the bureau was trying to access the cellphone.

 

Former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMarco, who filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of groups that supported the Justice Department against Apple, said he was hopeful the case would spur fresh discussion. If not by itself, he said, the shooting could be one of several cases that prompt the Justice Department to take other technology companies to court.

 

“Eventually, the courts will rule on this or a legislative fix will be imposed,” he said. “Eventually, the pressure will mount.”

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Twitter, Snapchat Tweak Products to Lure More Users

Struggling social media platforms Twitter and Snapchat are taking on new looks as the services seek wider audiences in the shadow of Facebook.

Twitter is rolling out a 280-character limit for nearly all its users, abandoning its iconic 140-character limit for tweets. And Snapchat, long popular with young people, will undergo a revamp in hopes of becoming easier to use for everyone else.

Both services announced the moves Tuesday as they look for ways to expand beyond their passionate but slow-growing fan bases.

Twitter has said that 9 percent of tweets written in English hit the 140-character limit. People ended up spending more time editing tweets or didn’t send them out at all. By removing that hurdle, Twitter is hoping people will tweet more, drawing more users in.

Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany’s justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling.

The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz.

Munich police, meanwhile, said that “at last” they won’t need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer.

In Rome, student Marina Verdicchio said the change “will give us the possibility to express ourselves in a totally different way and to avoid canceling important words when we use Twitter.”

Shakespearean skepticism

Others were not impressed, including at least one who quoted Shakespeare: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

And, as Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel noted, change does not come without risk.

“We don’t yet know how the behavior of our community will change when they begin to use our updated application,” he said. “We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”

Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, did not provide details on the upcoming changes.

During the third quarter, Twitter averaged 330 million monthly users, up just 1 percent from the previous quarter. Snapchat added 4.5 million daily users in the quarter to 178 million, which amounts to a 3 percent growth. The company does not report monthly user figures.

Those numbers pale next to social media behemoth Facebook, which reported that its monthly users rose 16 percent to 2.07 billion.

“The one thing that we have heard over the years is that Snapchat is difficult to understand or hard to use, and our team has been working on responding to this feedback,” Spiegel said. “As a result, we are currently redesigning our application to make it easier to use.”

His comments came on a conference call with industry analysts after the company posted the lackluster user-growth numbers and revenue that fell well short of Wall Street expectations. Snap’s stock was bludgeoned Wednesday, falling 16 percent to $12.70 in early-morning trading. The Venice, California, company went public in March at $17 a share.

Expanding the base

Snapchat needs to grow its user base beyond 13-to-34-year-olds in the U.S., France, the U.K. and Australia, Spiegel said. This, he said, includes Android users, people older than 34 and what he called “rest of world” markets.

Meanwhile, Snap said Wednesday that Chinese internet company Tencent had acquired a 10 percent stake in the company. Tencent runs the WeChat messaging app, as well as online payment platforms and games. Earlier this year, Tencent bought a 5 percent stake in Tesla Inc.

As for Twitter, the move to 280 characters was begun as a test in September.

“People in the experiment told us that a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall,” said project manager Aliza Rosen in a blog post.

The expansion to 280-character tweets will be extended to all users except those tweeting in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, who will still have the original limit. That’s because writing in those languages uses fewer characters.

The company has been slowly easing restrictions to let people cram more characters into a tweet. It stopped counting polls, photos, videos and other things toward the limit. Even before it did so, users found creative ways to get around the limit. These include multipart tweets and screenshots of blocks of text.

Twitter’s character limit was created so that tweets could fit into a single text message, back when many people were using texts to receive tweets. But now, most people use Twitter through its mobile app; the 140-character limit is no longer a technical constraint but nostalgia.

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German Officials Celebrate Doubled Twitter Character Limit

German bureaucrats — notorious for their ability to create lengthy tongue twisters consisting of one single word — are celebrating the doubling of Twitter’s character limit.

Twitter announced Tuesday it’s increasing the limit for almost all users of the messaging service from 140 to 280 characters, prompting a mix of delighted and despairing reactions.

Waking up to the news Wednesday, Germany’s justice ministry wrote that it can now tweet about legislation concerning the transfer of oversight responsibilities for beef labeling.

The law is known in German as the Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz.

Munich police, meanwhile, said that “at last” they won’t need abbreviations to tweet about accidents involving forklift drivers, or Niederflurfoerderfahrzeugfuehrer.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert made clear he’ll keep it short, quoting Anton Chekhov: “Brevity is the sister of talent.”

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New Jersey’s "Mile Square" City Elects First Sikh Mayor

Just across the Hudson river from Manhattan, the “Mile Square” city of Hoboken, New Jersey, elected its first Sikh mayor on Tuesday.

Democrat Ravi Bhalla, who has served on Hoboken’s city council for eight years and was endorsed by outgoing mayor Dawn Zimmer, claimed victory over five rival candidates late Tuesday night.

The city of just over 50,000 people was given the opportunity to elect the first openly gay, Latino, or Sikh mayor – one of many local U.S. elections Tuesday considered a precursor of the battle between the Republican and Democratic parties in the Trump era ahead of mid-term elections next year. 

Hoboken is a fairly diverse city, with 15 percent of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino, and seven percent identifying as Asian – both figures just shy of the statewide average, according to 2010 census data.

So the story that dominated local news in the days before the election surprised many – reports of flyers distributed throughout the city with Bhalla’s face under a bold red heading of “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!” 

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., the backlash against Muslims across the United States at times also included members of the Sikh faith. Followers of the Sikh faith, a monotheistic religion that originated in northern India, are often confused with Muslims.

Devout male followers of the Sikh faith keep their beards and hair long and wear turbans.

“This is not reflective of Hoboken,” Bhalla told VOA as he met with residents on their way to the polls. “I’ve been elected to the city council twice now – if it wasn’t a welcoming city I wouldn’t have been elected. So I think it’s an anomaly – it doesn’t represent what Hoboken is.” 

“That said it’s obviously disturbing,” he added.

Also disturbed by the fliers was one of Bhalla’s six rivals for the Mayoral seat – Michael DeFusco. The distributed fliers said they were paid for by DeFusco’s campaign – a claim he has denied. 

Police are searching for answers regarding who may have paid for these messages, based on surveillance videos of two individuals placing them on car windshields throughout the city. But in the meantime, DeFusco says the incident harmed his campaign as well as Bhalla’s.

“One of my campaign fliers was maliciously reproduced and smeared with racist propaganda aimed at one of my opponents,” he told VOA. “But I was also a victim of this terrible act in that my name was associated with this awful hate-filled speech.”

DeFusco, currently serving on Hoboken’s city council, is the first openly gay person elected in the city.

Erica Commisso, a new Hoboken resident, said she was surprised by the amount of negative campaigning in the local election. “There’s a lot more smear campaigns than I’m used to,” she said. 

“Everyone’s been inundated with literature drops, and mailers, and robocalls,” Joshua Einstein, a ten-year resident of Hoboken, told VOA.

Racist propaganda, however, has been reported even in the most diverse of cities. In Edison, New Jersey, where 28.3 percent of residents identify as Indian-American, locals reported seeing flyers calling to “deport” Indian-American and Chinese-American candidates for the school board.

But Bhalla, who along with rival candidates encouraged voters to look past the flier, is now looking forward to the future of his city.

“I’ve seen a lot of the great things we’ve done in Hoboken,” Bhalla said. “So when the mayor asked me to run for mayor…I felt like it was important to try to continue that forward movement.”

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Venezuelan Crisis Spawns Boom in Gambling

Players line up beside a small kiosk in a poor neighborhood to choose animals in a lottery game that has become a craze in Venezuela even as the oil-rich country suffers a fourth year of brutal recession.

It seems more and more Venezuelans are turning to gambling in their desperation to make ends meet amid the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Though more people lose than win overall, the illusion of a payday has become more alluring as Venezuelans endure the world’s highest inflation, shortages of basics from flour to car batteries, and diminished real-term wages. 

Among multiple options from race courses to back-street betting parlors, the roulette-style “Los Animalitos” (or the Little Animals) is currently by far the most popular game on the street.

“Most people I see playing the lottery are unemployed, trying to make a bit extra this way because the payouts are good,” said Veruska Torres, 26, a nurse who recently lost her job in a pharmacy and now plays Animalitos every day.

Torres often plays more than a dozen times daily at the kiosk in Catia, spending between 5,000-10,000 bolivars, but sometimes making up to 50,000 or 60,000 bolivars in winnings – more than a quarter of the monthly minimum wage.

When that happens, she splits the money between buying food and diapers for her baby boy, and re-investing in the lottery.

The Animalitos game, whose results appear on YouTube at scheduled times, is hugely popular because it goes through various rounds, holding people’s interest, and provides more chances to win than most traditional betting options.

The cheapest ticket costs just 100 bolivars – a quarter of a U.S. cent at the black market currency rate, and more than 10 times less than that at the official exchange level.

“It helped me a lot,” said Eduardo Liendo, 63, of a timely win. He recently lost his house and lives in a car in Caracas’ Propatria neighborhood, but had a successful punt on the Animalitos, choosing the dog figure after his own had died.

There is no hard data on betting figures, and the government’s betting regulator did not answer requests from Reuters for information. But those behind Venezuela’s gambling businesses, run by a mixture of private companies and local regional authorities, said trade was booming, with lines longer and busier than ever – because of, not despite, the hard times.

“In a crisis like the one we’re going through, people drink and gamble more to escape from reality,” said psychologist Rosa Garcia from the rural state of Barinas.

The latest scarcity in Venezuela is cash – as authorities cannot produce enough notes to keep up with dizzying inflation – so many bars, shops and betting parlors have quickly switched from cash to electronic transactions to keep money flowing.

That has hit the Caracas hippodrome, where cash is still king. But thousands still go there at weekends, pushing against fences in front of the sand track to cheer their horse on as salsa music booms in the background.

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Trump Warns North Korea: Do Not ‘Try Us’

In a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump has sent a message north of the border, calling on leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang to give up all his nuclear weapons for a chance to step on to “a better path.”

Trump on Wednesday also warned, “Do not underestimate us and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity and our sacred liberty.”

His words were underscored by the presence of three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines, which the president said “are appropriately positioned” near the peninsula.

The U.S president referred to North Korea as a failure, a “twisted regime” ruled by a cult and a tyrant who enslaves his people – a characterization certain to provoke a harsh rhetorical reply from Pyongyang, which has repeatedly accused the United States of preparing to attack and refers to Trump as a deplorable crazed man.

 

“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” said Trump in his speech. “All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea – to deny it any form of support.”

Trump had effusive praise for South Korea, contrasting its economic success with the dark situation in the North.

“The more successful South Korea becomes, the more decisively you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the Kim regime,” said the U.S. president. 

Trump’s 35-minute address, which he was still editing at the last minute, according to the National Assembly speaker, came after a surprise but aborted Wednesday morning trip to the Korean DMZ. But it ended on a hopeful note, which is the Korean dream: the peaceful reunification of the peninsula.

But with Kim’s weapons of mass destruction posing a greater threat, Trump warned, “the longer we wait, the greater the danger grows and the few the options become.”

President Trump generally took a more optimistic view of diplomacy during his visit to Seoul, which included meetings on Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said progress has been made to diffuse heightened tensions in the region, a striking departure from the tone of his tweets in recent weeks suggesting talks with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis were “a waste of time.” 

The president will now travel to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping that are expected to focus on the situation in North Korea as well as trade.

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Democrats Notch Big Wins in Virginia, New Jersey

Tuesday delivered a string of high-profile victories for Democrats in gubernatorial races. 

Democrat Ralph Northam decisively won the Virginia governor’s race in what had become a nail-biter of a contest, defeating Republican Ed Gillespie in the election to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Northam, currently Virginia’s lieutenant governor, held a comfortable lead in many voter opinion surveys until Gillespie launched a series of television ads attacking Northam on such issues as gang crime, immigration and preserving statues honoring Virginians when the Commonwealth and other southern states broke away from northern states during the 19th-century era American Civil War — tactics similar to those used by Donald Trump in his successful 2016 White House bid.

“Today, Virginians have answered, and have spoken — Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” Northam said in his victory speech. “We need to close the wounds that divide and bring unity to Virginia.”

Northam’s victory led a Democratic sweep of all statewide races in the Commonwealth, including the offices lieutenant governor and attorney general. The party also posted several upset legislative victories, winning 14 seats in the House of Delegates, just three seats shy of wresting control from Republicans. The Democratic victors included Danica Roem, who beat veteran lawmaker Robert Marshall to become the Commonwealth’s first openly transgender elected official. Marshall was known as a strong opponent of gay and lesbian rights.

Trump, who is on a 12-day five nation trip to Asia, vouched for Gillespie in a series of tweets early Tuesday. But that changed after Northam’s victory was apparent:

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” the president tweeted from South Korea. “Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy prevailed as expected over Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in the race to replace outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie. Guadagno was hurt by her association with Christie, a candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, whose approval rating have hit a record low as he finishes his eight years in office. 

Murphy, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany, has touted a liberal agenda that includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing taxes on millionaires, boosting funding for schools and legalizing marijuana.

Tuesday’s balloting provides an important early indication of how the electorate views President Trump, as the Republican and Democratic parties try to gain momentum before next year’s mid-term elections. The victories in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as other states and localities, will surely boost morale among Democrats still reeling over Trump’s upset win over Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential campaign.

Republicans were hoping wins will help soothe intra-party bickering between Trump and key congressional Republicans.

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US Senate Panel Targets Chinese Banks with North Korea Sanctions

The U.S. Senate Banking Committee unanimously backed new sanctions targeting Chinese banks that do business with North Korea on Tuesday, just before President Donald Trump visits Beijing for the first time since taking office.

As well as strengthening existing sanctions and congressional oversight, the measure will target foreign financial institutions — in China and elsewhere — that provide services to those subject to North Korea-related sanctions by the U.S. Congress, a presidential order or U.N. Security Council resolution.

All 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats on the panel voted for the “Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act,” clearing the way for its consideration by the full Senate.

The bill was named after a U.S. student who died earlier this year after he was imprisoned in North Korea, further chilling already poor relations between Washington and Pyongyang.

“For too long, we’ve been complacent about the growing and gathering threat from the North Korean regime,” Republican Pat Toomey, one of the bill’s authors, said after the committee voted.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, another author, said that in addition to Chinese banks, Malaysian financial institutions might end up in its sights.

Trump is due to wrap up a visit to Seoul on Wednesday with a major speech on North Korea, and then shift focus to China, where he is expected to press a reluctant President Xi Jinping to tighten the screws further on Pyongyang.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as many Democrats, have been critical of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric about North Korea, and have called for the use of economic tools like sanctions or more negotiations before talking of war.

Washington so far has largely held off on imposing new sanctions against Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.

Van Hollen told reporters on Monday ahead of the committee vote that he wished Trump would follow the model of President Theodore Roosevelt and “speak softly and carry a big stick,” adding: “We’re trying to give him a little bigger stick with the sanctions.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers said last week they had reached a bipartisan agreement on the sanctions bill. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

The leaders of the Republican-led Senate have not said when the chamber might vote on the legislation.

 

 

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Exploring Egypt’s Great Pyramid From the Inside, Virtually

A team of scientists who last week announced the discovery of a large void inside the Great Pyramid of Giza have created a virtual reality tour that allows users to “teleport” themselves inside the structure and explore its architecture.

Using 3-D technology, the Scan Pyramids Project allows visitors wearing headsets to take a guided tour inside the Grand Gallery, the Queen’s Chamber and other ancient rooms not normally accessible to the public, without leaving Paris.

“Thanks to this technique, we make it possible to teleport ourselves to Egypt, inside the pyramid, as a group and with a guide,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, co-director of Scan Pyramids, which on November 2 announced the discovery of a mysterious space inside the depths of the Pyramid.

The void itself is visible on the tour, appearing like a dotted cloud.

“What is new in the world of virtual reality is that from now on, you are not isolated,” Tayoubi said. “You’re in a group — you can take a tour with your family. And you can access places which you usually can’t in the real pyramid.”

While partly designed as a fun experience, the “collaborative immersion” project allows researchers to improve the technologies they used to detect the pyramid void and think about what purpose it may have served.

Ancient wonder

The pyramid, built around 2,500 B.C. and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was a monumental tomb soaring to a height of 479 feet (146 meters). Until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, the Great Pyramid stood as the tallest man-made structure for more than 4,000 years.

While there are passageways into it and chambers in various parts, much of the internal structure had remained a mystery until a team from France’s HIP Institute used an imaging method based on cosmic rays to gain a view inside.

So-called muon particles, which originate from interactions with rays from space and atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere, are able to penetrate hundreds of meters through stone before being absorbed. That allows for mapping inside stone structures.

“Muon tomography has really improved a lot due to its use on the pyramid, and we think that muography will have other applications in other fields,” said Tayoubi. “But we also wanted to innovate and imagine devices to allow the wider public to understand what this pyramid is, understand it from within.”

When looking through their 3-D goggles, visitors can see the enormous stones of the pyramid as if they were real, and walk virtually along its corridors, chambers and hidden spaces.

As they approach the pyramid from the outside, the tour even includes audio of Cairo’s deafening and ever-present traffic.

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National Assembly: Venezuela’s January-October Inflation 826 Percent

Inflation in Venezuela’s crisis-hit economy was 826 percent in the 10 months to October and may end 2017 above 1,400 percent, the opposition-controlled National Assembly said Friday.

The government stopped releasing price data more than a year ago but congress has published its own figures since January and they have been close to private economists’ estimates.

As well as the alarming Jan-Oct cumulative rise, the legislative body, which has been sidelined by President Nicolas Maduro’s government, put monthly inflation at 45.5 percent for October, compared with 36.3 percent in September.

Opponents say Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have wrecked a once-prosperous economy with 18 years of state-led socialist policies from nationalizations to currency controls.

The government says it is victim of an “economic war” including speculation and hoarding by pro-opposition businessmen, combined with U.S. sanctions and the fall in global oil prices from mid-2014. OPEC member Venezuela relies on crude oil for more than 95 percent of its export revenues.

Prices in Venezuela, which has long had one of the highest inflation rates in the world, rose 180.9 percent in 2015 and 274 percent in 2016, according to official figures, although many economists believe the real data was worse.

Announcing the October calculations, opposition lawmaker Angel Alvarado told the National Assembly that inflation next year could reach 12,000 percent.

“This is dramatic, this is Venezuelans’ big problem, it’s what keeps workers awake at night, it’s what’s killing the people with hunger,” Alvarado said.

In a research note this week, New York-based Torino Capital estimated Venezuela’s 2017 inflation would be 1,032 percent.

A central bank spokeswoman could not provide official data.

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