Friday 20 October 2017

Macron campaign hit by 'significant' data leak hours before French poll

Ballot papers are readied at a polling station in Bayonne, south-western France (AP)
Ballot papers are readied at a polling station in Bayonne, south-western France (AP)

A "significant amount of data" has been leaked on social networks following a hacking attack allegedly suffered by French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, investigators said.

The cyber attack came just 36 hours before France votes in the crucial run-off, contested by centrist Mr Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

France's election campaign commission said leaked data apparently came from Mr Macron's "information systems and mail accounts from some of his campaign managers".

In a statement released after a morning meeting, the watchdog said the leaked data had been "fraudulently" obtained and that fake news has probably been mingled with it.

The commission urged French media and citizens "not to relay" the leaked documents "in order not to alter the sincerity of the vote".

French electoral laws impose a blackout over Saturday and most of Sunday on any campaigning and media coverage seen as swaying the election.

Meanwhile, voting for France's next president started in some overseas territories.

The first French territory to vote was Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, an archipelago located near Newfoundland, where polling stations opened in the morning. Early voting in other French overseas territories and French embassies abroad will begin later.

The 44-hour legal blackout on campaigning began on Friday at midnight and is due to last until Sunday at 8pm, when the last polling stations close on the mainland and the first pollsters' projections and official partial results are expected.

Fears of hacking and campaign interference have simmered throughout France's high-stakes, closely-watched campaign - and boiled over on Friday night as Mr Macron's team said it had been the victim of a "massive and coordinated" hack.

His political movement said the unidentified hackers accessed staffers' personal and professional emails and leaked campaign finance material and contracts - as well as fake decoy documents - online.

The perpetrators remain unknown. While the hack is shaking up an already-remarkable campaign, it's unclear whether the document dump would dent Mr Macron's large poll lead over Ms Le Pen going into the vote.

After ditching France's traditional left-right parties in a first-round election, voters are now choosing between Mr Macron's business-friendly, pro-European vision and Ms Le Pen's protectionist, closed-borders view which resonates with workers left behind by globalisation.

The future of the European Union may hinge on the vote, also seen as a test for global populism.

The leak began just before the blackout descended at midnight, in theatrical timing befitting the dramatic campaign.

Florian Philippot, the number two in Ms Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front party, asked in a tweet: "Will the #Macronleaks teach us something that investigative journalism deliberately buried?"

Press Association

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