Florida’s state police on Monday morning raided the home of coronavirus tracker Rebekah Jones, seizing her electronics at gunpoint as part of a computer hacking investigation.
Jones previously built a website displaying up-to-date COVID-19 virus infection stats for Florida’s Department of Health while working as a geographic information system manager for the department’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. But in May she said she was fired for refusing to massage the numbers so that the Sunshine State didn’t look quite as riddled with the virus as it really was, and could justify reopening businesses.
The official explanation for Jones’ departure was that, according to a spokesperson for Governor Ron DeSantis, she “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.”
Jones then set up her own COVID-19 dashboard, which frequently reported a higher number of cases than the Department of Health’s site.
This week, state cops armed with a search warrant entered her home at 8am with guns drawn, and took away all her electronic devices. A short video clip, recorded from a camera on a bookshelf and posted on Twitter, shows her yelling at the g-men to not point a gun at her children.
There will be no update today.
At 8:30 am this morning, state police came into my house and took all my hardware and tech.
They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint.
They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids.. pic.twitter.com/DE2QfOmtPU
— Rebekah Jones (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020
This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly.
This is what happens to people who speak truth to power.
I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs… and THEN one of them draws his gun.
On my children.
This is Desantis’ Florida.
— Rebekah Jones (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020
Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement said it had a search warrant for her phone and computer after Jones’ previous employer, the Dept of Health, filed an official complaint against her. We’re told agents spent 20 minutes discussing the situation with her before she eventually opened her front door.
The reason for the swoop? It’s alleged she hacked into a department computer system, and the state cops were on the hunt for evidence, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Specifically, it’s believed Jones accessed an emergency messaging system without authorization to send an alert urging staff working at the State Emergency Response Team to speak out against any attempts to fudge the COVID-19 figures.
The message reportedly read: “Speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
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Investigator Noel Pratt said the note went out to approximately 1,750 accounts. In an affidavit, he said the IP address of the computer used to transmit the alert was traced back to Jones’ home address.
Jones denies any wrongdoing and any involvement. She said the Dept of Health provided the network address to the police.
“Hacking is not something I ever thought they would accuse me of because I have never displayed any capability of doing that,” she told reporters. “I’ve never taken any computer courses or anything like that. I do statistics in a software program designed basically to do all that stuff for you by clicking stuff.”
Jones believes her devices were seized because they contain evidence of the state covering up vital coronavirus data, and pointed the finger at Florida’s Gov DeSantis (R).
“They took evidence of corruption at the state level,” Jones claimed on Twitter. “They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.” Jones is publicly vocal about the way the state reports its COVID-19 data, and has accused Florida’s officials of “deleting deaths and cases” to make it look like the state was steadily improving.
“The most damning stuff that they are going to get from that equipment is the information about all of the employees from the state who have talked to me over the last six months,” she added to journalists. “And, the fact that I promised them I would never tell anybody who they were, or where they worked and I have failed to protect them, really f****** pissed me off.”
Jones and the state plod were not available for further comment. Florida’s Department of Health declined to comment. According to the New York Times, Florida has recorded more than a million coronavirus cases – roughly 5,000 per 100,000 inhabitants – and 19,200 deaths. ®