DNC barring Sanders’ team from accessing data after breach

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic National Committee temporarily barred Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign from accessing the DNC’s voter file after a software error allowed at least one member of Sanders’ staff to look at Hillary Clinton’s private campaign information, campaign and party officials said Friday.

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told The Associated Press that the campaign had fired a staff member who reviewed the data, but blamed a vendor who runs the DNC’s voter database for making “serious errors.” He said four members of the Sanders campaign had accessed the information but that only the actions of one, the campaign’s data director, had risen to the level of a fireable offense.

The DNC maintains an extensive list of voter information and rents it out to campaigns, which update it with their own data. The data allows campaigns to target likely voters and anticipate what issues might motivate them to support a candidate.

It remained unclear how long the Sanders campaign would be barred from accessing the DNC data, but the information could be crucial in his campaign’s ability to identify and persuade voters in the kickoff February contests of Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders has built a strong following among young voters and liberals, but Clinton has maintained a lead in national polls.

The data breach was first reported by The Washington Post. It’s the latest dust-up involving the DNC and the three major Democratic presidential campaigns. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has complained that the DNC purposely limited the number of presidential debates to six to give Clinton an unfair advantage. The next debate is on Saturday in New Hampshire.

Clinton’s campaign declined comment on the incident.

Firewalls are put in place to prevent campaigns from looking at data maintained by their rivals. But officials said the vendor that runs the system, NGP VAN, used a software patch on Wednesday that allowed all users on the system to access data belonging to other campaigns during the morning. The breach did not involve any hacking or enable any voting information to enter the public domain, officials said.

Briggs said in a statement that after a discussion with the DNC “it became clear that one of our staffers accessed some modeling data from another campaign. That behavior is unacceptable and that staffer was immediately fired.”

He said campaign manager Jeff Weaver and Brad Deutsch, Sanders’ legal counsel, planned to hold a news conference later Friday. The staff member who was fired, data director Josh Uretsky, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said Friday that the party committee “places a high priority on maintaining the security of our system and protecting the data in it.” He said the DNC was “working with our campaigns and the vendor to have full clarity on the extent of the breach, ensure that this isolated incident does not happen again, and to enable our campaigns to continue engaging voters on the issues that matter most to them and their families.”

He said the DNC instructed NGP VAN to conduct an analysis of any users who accessed the data and report back its findings.

Stu Trevelyan, NGP VAN’s chief executive and president, said in a statement that “security and privacy of our customers’ data is a top priority” and the firm had a “brief isolated issue for users of one of our products” on Wednesday.

“We are confident at this point that no campaigns have access to or have retained any voter file data of any other clients; with one possible exception, one of the presidential campaigns,” he said. “NGP VAN is providing a thorough report to the DNC on what happened and conducting a review to ensure the integrity of the system.”

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