Rebekah Jones, former Covid-19 data analyst in Florida, arrested

Florida law enforcement has arrested a former state Department of Health data analyst on suspicion of illegally accessing a state-run messaging system used by emergency personnel.

Rebekah Jones has surrendered to authorities and has been charged with one count of charges against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said on Monday in a statement. communicated.

The law enforcement department had obtained an arrest warrant for Ms Jones, who denied responsibility for any hacking and said authorities were targeting her for attempting to expose manipulations of the Covid infection data. 19 of the state.

Ms Jones said on Twitter on Saturday that she was planning to surrender.

“To protect my family from the continued police violence and to show that I am ready to fight whatever they throw at me, I turn into police in Florida on Sunday night,” she wrote.

In May, Ms Jones, who is 31, said she was fired from her job as developer of the state’s Covid-19 online dashboard. In court documents, she claimed she was fired “after refusing to tamper with data.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis said last year that the Department of Health fired Ms Jones for insubordination, saying she caused disruption by repeatedly modifying the ministry’s Covid-19 dashboard without approval.

Ms Jones filed a lawsuit against the state health department in July. Months later, her dispute with Florida health officials took a more serious turn.

In December, armed Law Enforcement Department agents executed a search warrant at her home in Tallahassee, seizing computer equipment. The warrant was issued weeks after a state health official informed law enforcement that an anonymous person posted an unauthorized message to a government emergency messaging system in Florida, according to officials.

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

Law enforcement officials served the search warrant after tracing the message to his personal IP address, officials said. The warrant was based on the probable cause that his home concealed evidence of a violation of Florida hacking law prohibiting unauthorized access to a computer system.

“Evidence from a Dec. 7 search warrant shows Jones illegally accessed the system by messaging around 1,750 people and downloaded confidential data from the FDOH and saved it to his devices,” the department said. police in a statement Monday.

Ms Jones in court documents denied posting the post or illegally accessing a restricted site.

Ms Jones created the Florida Covid-19 Data Portal, which visually displays data on Covid-19 cases and deaths obtained by epidemiological staff at the Florida Department of Health. The site is used by public health officials, researchers and the media, among others, to analyze the progress of the pandemic in the state.

Mr DeSantis, a Republican, denied that any Covid-19 data was tampered with. At a press conference in May, the governor called the controversy over Ms Jones a non-issue and defended the state scorecard as a “devil of a tool.”

A representative from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Ms Jones set up her own Covid-19 data dashboard after her dismissal, showing around 100,000 more Covid-19 cases in Florida than the state’s official tally.

Last month, she filed a civil rights complaint in a circuit court against the Department of Law Enforcement, saying she was being investigated in retaliation for exercising her rights to the law enforcement agency. title of the first amendment.

Write to Jacob Gershman at [email protected]

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Sean N. Ayres