Arrest-threatened data scientist Rebekah Jones surrenders to Florida authorities : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

Former Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones surrendered to authorities on Sunday night. She accuses the state of retaliating against her for speaking out against its COVID-19 policies and officials’ decisions related to the pandemic.

Courtesy of Rebekah Jones


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Courtesy of Rebekah Jones


Former Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones surrendered to authorities on Sunday night. She accuses the state of retaliating against her for speaking out against its COVID-19 policies and officials’ decisions related to the pandemic.

Courtesy of Rebekah Jones

Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET

Rebekah Jones, the data scientist who helped create Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, has turned herself in to police, in response to a state-issued arrest warrant.

Jones is charged with one count of “offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices,” the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Monday in a statement.

Jones said she lost her job after refusing data manipulation requests to suggest Florida was ready to ease coronavirus restrictions. Jones says she is being punished for continuing to speak out about Governor Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19, citing his arrest and a raid on his home last month.

The FDLE said in its statement that “evidence extracted from a search warrant on December 7 shows that Jones illegally accessed the system by messaging approximately 1,750 people and downloaded confidential FDOH data and saved it. on their devices.

According to Jones, Florida investigators “found no evidence“linked to the incident that officials say sparked the raid: a chat message that was sent to a planning group on an emergency alert platform, urging people to speak publicly about strategies She wrote on Twitter on Saturday, “Police have found documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature.”

The arrest warrant, obtained by NPR, alleges that Jones gained unauthorized access to state health department software on Nov. 10 and sent a mass text message to employees saying, “It’s time to talk before that 17,000 more people died. You know that’s wrong. You don’t have to be a part of it. Be a hero. Speak up before it’s too late.”

He said the message had sown “doubt and confusion” among the workgroups who shared this planning account and caused information technology staff to divert their attention to deal with a possible cyberattack. In total, according to the mandate, about thirty employees had to stop their usual duties to deal with the incident.

The warrant also alleges Jones downloaded and saved health department data — containing contact information for “approximately 19,182 people in the state of Florida” — onto his own devices and unsuccessfully attempted to re-access it. the messaging platform on November 12.

After news of Jones’ pending arrest warrant emerged, Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement told NPR the agency was in talks with his attorneys to arrange for his arrest.

Jones said on Saturday that she planned to surrender. She was then placed in the Leon County Detention Center in Tallahassee.

“To protect my family from continued police brutality and to show that I’m ready to fight anything they throw at me, I’m turning into a police officer in Florida on Sunday night,” she said. said on Twitter. “The Governor will not win his war on science and free speech. He will not silence those who speak out.”

Jones, who faces a third-degree felony charge, appeared virtually before a judge in a live-streamed hearing Monday morning. Jones’ attorneys told the hearing that she currently resides in Washington, D.C. and drove for two days to get there.

The judge set Jones’ bail at $2,500, on the condition that she have no contact with any of the people whose personal information was allegedly downloaded and no contact through Florida state computer systems. He spoke out against GPS surveillance and the banning of internet access, which the state had demanded.

In early December, Florida law enforcement officers seized Jones’ computer, phone and other devices when they executed a search warrant at her Tallahassee home. She then sued, claiming the raid, in which officers entered her home with guns drawn, was another act of retaliation against her.

Saturday, Jones said via Twitter that the state’s allegation against her “was released the day after a Tallahassee judge told police that if they weren’t investigating a crime, they had to return my gear.”

In the months after Jones was fired, she created her own dashboard for reporting coronavirus information called Florida COVID Action, offering data and information on testing options. When she launched it, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health defended the state’s dashboard and suggested that Jones’ version included unreliable data.

Sean N. Ayres