Former Florida Covid Data Scientist Drops Cops Lawsuit Over House Raid

Top line

Rebekah Jones, a former Florida state data scientist who has become a vocal critic of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, drops a lawsuit related to a police raid on her home in December, which took place as part of ‘a criminal investigation against Jones after authorities say she illegally accessed a Department of Health communications system.

Highlights

Police entered Jones’ Tallahassee home with guns drawn on December 7, taking computer equipment with them after waiting nearly 15 minutes for Jones to open his front door, a delay according to DeSantis shows Jones was ” non-cooperative “.

Authorities claim Jones hacked into a Department of Health communications service in November, sending a message saying, “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people die,” which they say is connected to an address Jones’ home IP.

Jones surrendered last month on an arrest warrant on one count of “offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices.”

Jones has continuously lambasted DeSantis since she was fired from the state in May 2020, after being widely praised for designing the state’s first Covid-19 dashboard, and claimed she was being targeted in the framework of political reprisals.

Jones says she was fired because she turned down a request to tamper with Covid state data, but DeSantis retorts that she was fired because “she wasn’t doing a good job.”

The civil lawsuit is dismissed “without prejudice”, which means Jones could again file a case.

Surprising fact

The business technology site Ars Technica noted after the raid that the system Jones allegedly messaged appeared to have a publicly available username and password, which at the time could be discovered simply by performing a Google search, which raises the issue of whether sending a message using the system would constitute a hack at all.

Key context

Jones has been very vocal against Florida’s Covid policies, which have long been by far the least restrictive of any major state in the country. The state has allowed bars and restaurants to operate at 100% capacity since September, with localities having limited capacity to enact new restrictions. DeSantis has also taken steps to significantly limit the ability of local governments to enforce mask mandates. Jones has operated his own Covid dashboard independent of the state’s since his dismissal.

Tangent

Ronald J. Filipkowski, who described himself as a “DeSantis politician” to his post on the 12th State Circuit Judicial Appointments Commission, quit his job after the raid, saying the response from the state at Covid had gone from being a medical problem to “now a legal one.”

Further reading

Fiery DeSantis claims police-drawn police invasion of former Covid state scientist’s home was carried out “with honor” (Forbes)

Data scientist Rebekah Jones, threatened with arrest, surrenders to Florida authorities (NPR)

COVID data manager investigated, raided for using publicly available password (Are Technica)

Covid cases peak in Florida as bars and restaurants reopen at full capacity (Forbes)

Florida governor extends ban on cities imposing sanctions for mask tenure – critical calls lead to ‘murderous party’ (Forbes)

DeSantis aide quits Florida Covid policy and police raid on data scientist (Forbes)

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Sean N. Ayres