Florida-licensed data analyst Rebekah Jones accuses DeSantis of raiding home

The search warrant executed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents this week at the home of the state’s most influential COVID-19 whistleblower is an event that needs to be watched closely.

It can be much more than an anonymous message.

Rebekah Jones went from a state-paid coronavirus data analyst who was praised for building Florida’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard to an independent reviewer of its reporting methodology in May.

Rebekah Jones, former Florida Department of Health scientist

It was then that Governor Ron DeSantis fired her, claiming she was a rebellious employee who refused to follow the data analysis procedures put in place by the Florida Department of Health.

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“What she was doing was putting data on the portal that scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” DeSantis said at the time. “So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors.”

Jones replied that she was fired for publishing the real and more alarming number of COVID-19 infections in the state, and for refusing to manipulate that data to allow DeSantis to justify easing pandemic restrictions .

Rather than sulking after being fired, Jones started his own COVID-19 reporting dashboard, expanding it to include reports of cases of infection in schools.

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And in doing so, she gained a national audience. She continued to question Florida’s reporting methodology, and in July she filed a whistleblower complaint that called the governor directly.

“These efforts to falsify the numbers are a model and practice of the Florida government that continues to this day,” Jones attorney Rick Johnson said at the time of filing. “DeSantis has regularly given false figures to the press.

“His subordinates (in the Ministry of Health) follow his example and his direction.”

What sparked the execution of the search warrant at Jones’ home this week was an anonymous group message sent to members of the state’s emergency response team last month.

“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people die,” the anonymous computer message of Nov. 10 said, according to the affidavit. “You know it’s wrong. You don’t have to be a part of it. Be a hero. Speak up before it’s too late.”

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According to investigators, this message was sent to the closed state system known as ReadyOP by an unauthorized hacker. And upon further investigation, it led to an internet protocol address that matched Jones’ home in Tallahassee.

So when FDLE agents knocked on its door Monday morning, they had already lined it with a probable cause of legal action for a cybercrime against the state.

Here’s why we need to be careful and why the truth matters here:

If the state’s version is true, and Jones hacked into the state’s system in an attempt to recruit other whistleblowers, she’s crossed a line that makes it easier to tolerate the state’s brutal response.

But Jones tells a much different version of that executed search warrant – and one that, if true, is indeed, far more alarming than the alleged crime.

“I don’t think they’re after me,” Jones told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in a post-raid television interview.

Jones said FDLE agents left electronic devices behind, taking only the laptop where she worked on data and her cell phone.

“And on my phone, there are all the communications I have ever had with someone who works for the state who came to me in confidence and said something to me that might fire them or have problems. trouble like this, ”she said.

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“And I just want to tell all these people now, if he doesn’t already know, DeSantis will know soon enough that you spoke with me.” So be careful. “

Jones said she was neither the author nor the poster of the anonymous post because she was not a hacker and had not had any access to the state system since she had been fired.

Plus, it doesn’t make sense, she said. Why would she need to use a closed system to entice whistleblowers to come forward when she has been doing so openly on TV and in the newspapers for months?

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“This is just a thinly veiled attempt by the governor to intimidate scientists and get revenge on me while trying to access my sources,” she said.

If that’s true, that’s a big deal. It would be a flagrant abuse of power if the state invented a false reason for raiding the home of a whistleblower – a whistleblower hired against the state – in order to unearth his sources of information under threat. of a weapon.

And there are other side events to suggest why this may be the case. DeSantis has taken many other brutal steps to silence public information about the virus.

In September, spokespersons for the county-level health department were barred from releasing COVID information and schools were asked not to disclose infection numbers. He also ruled that local governments cannot impose fines for face mask violations.

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In October, as cases began to increase, the Florida Surgeon General, who had remained mostly silent, warned residents to question the data. And in November, the Florida Department of Health communications director was reassigned without explanation.

Meanwhile, Florida has hired a little-known sports blogger, Uber driver and anti-masker from Ohio to be a COVID-19 data analyst for the state.

Jones adamantly maintains that she never wrote the anonymous message that triggered the raid and that she didn’t even know what he was saying until Monday, when she read the affidavit for the search of her. residence.

“Much of the language used was not my way of speaking,” Jones said of the post. “And the number of deaths the person used was not even correct. They had less than 430 dead.

“I would never round off 430 deaths.”

The Executed Sea arrested Jones from her daily COVID report on Tuesday, but she vowed to publish again shortly.

“DeSantis needs to care less about what I write about and more about the people who are sick and die in his condition,” Jones told Cuomo. “Doing this to me will not prevent me from reporting the data. Never.”

Rebekah Jones Raid:Read the full Florida State Police search warrant

In other Florida news: Find out what “Florida Man” did in 2020

So let’s see how it goes. Either Jones wrote the message or she didn’t. There is a truth here to be learned.

If she did, she was letting her zeal go too far. And lying about it damaged his credibility.

But if she didn’t write that post, this incident could catapult itself into the upper echelon of the wrongs DeSantis has racked up during its response to this pandemic.

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Sean N. Ayres