State: Political party emails identified as spam 4 years ago

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Emails from the domain belonging to the Democratic Party of New Mexico were first blocked from state servers after being identified as spam four years ago, state technology officials said Monday.

Officials with the state Department of Information Technology detailed the cause of an email flap that has been brewing for more than a month as the political party called for an investigation.

Party spokesman Scott Tillman said Democrats first noticed emails being returned undelivered in July after requesting information from the secretary of state’s office.

The party first took aim at the secretary of state. The office denied doing anything to block the emails, saying it was the IT Department that maintained the state government email system.

With suspicions growing, the Democrats hired a local IT firm to test the state’s email system by setting up a domain similar to the one used by the party. That firm, which Democrats have refused to name, could not replicate the blacklisting problem and determined it had nothing to do with the party’s servers or domain configuration.

“After our thorough investigation, it is clear that the blacklisting was intentional,” the party said in a statement. “As such, the culprits who enacted this juvenile ploy need to be identified and appropriate discipline should be administered.”

The secretary of state’s office said last week that it had not received any complaints and was not aware of the party’s emails bouncing back until getting an inquiry from The Associated Press. The office then called the IT Department and asked that it reach out to the party to help resolve the issue.

Tillman has said Democrats first complained in July and that the blocking prevented state Democrats from obtaining important data, like public voter information from the secretary of state’s office.

According to state technology officials, the problem stems from spam received by an employee of the General Services Department years ago. That employee, who was hired by the previous administration, had complained about receiving multiple messages from a specific email address associated with the party’s domain. Despite asking to be removed from the party’s list, the emails continued, so the address was identified for spam activity and blocked.

The emails resumed from another address attached to the same domain, so the IT Department identified the whole domain as spam and blocked it to address the employee’s complaints, said agency spokesman Estevan Lujan.

“We have since updated our system that would allow any (Democratic Party of New Mexico) domain user to be able to interact with state officials on necessary and proper state business,” he said.

Tillman said the party is looking for accountability and is consulting with its legal team regarding the next steps.

The state email system serves more than 20,000 employees and sends and receives hundreds of thousands of messages on a daily basis. Lujan said there are thousands of email addresses that have been flagged for spam activity based on either complaints made by state workers or as part of global lists of spammers used by the IT security company charged with the keeping the email system free of spam and security vulnerabilities.

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