Hacking attacks on the web platform used by Italy’s 5-Star Movement to select representatives and shape policy threaten to dent confidence in its methods before a parliamentary election it is well placed to win. Internet-based direct democracy, in which members vote online, is a hallmark of the anti-establishment group that first entered parliament in 2013 and leads many opinion polls before the election, due to be held by May. Gianroberto Casaleggio, the late internet guru who co-founded 5-Star in 2009, believed the web would eventually supplant representative democracy, the system under which all eligible citizens vote on representatives to pass laws for them. But in August anonymous hackers broke into 5-Star’s web platform, called “Rousseau” after the 18th century Swiss-born philosopher, and obtained secret data on its members and donors.
It is unclear whether there will be any impact on 5-Star’s election performance. But if it cannot secure its web platforms, it will be hard to continue using the online methods that set it apart from other political groups.
Public worries over theft of personal data could also make it difficult for 5-Star to attract new members. It already has only a modest membership although it has won millions of votes at the polls with promises to clean up politics and offer universal income support for the poor.
“The hacking problem is very serious for 5-Star because it undermines the credibility of their direct democracy message,” sociology professor Luca Ricolfi told Reuters.