Florida Whistleblower Rebekah Jones Turns Herself In 'to Protect Her Family' From Local Police

Illustration for article titled Florida Whistleblower Rebekah Jones Turns Herself In 'to Protect Her Family' From Local Police
Screenshot: WPTV News/YouTube (Other)

Rebekah Jones, the Florida data scientist turned whistleblower who accused state authorities of manipulating covid-19 data, turned herself in to local police on Sunday night to, as she put it, “protect her family” from ongoing police harassment. Her announcement came just one day after Florida authorities issued an arrest warrant alleging she illegally accessed the state’s computer systems.

According to Jones’s attorney, she tested positive for covid-19 after turning herself in, marking a dangerous, ironic twist in a months-long saga sparked by the deadly virus.

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Last May, Jones made national headlines after being ousted from her role as the manager of Florida’s covid-19 dashboard over what she claimed was a refusal to fudge some of the numbers surrounding the state’s total coronavirus caseload. Upon being fired, she went on to create her own dashboard, which she claimed to show the real, hard numbers authorities didn’t want people to see.

After months of tweeting her research (interspersed with scathing criticism on the many, many ways Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s mangled the state’s coronavirus approach), Florida law enforcement officials raided Jones’s home in December and seized her computers and data equipment.

As CBS News reported at the time, the search warrant resulted from the Department of Health–Jones’s former employer–issuing a complaint in early November over someone gaining unauthorized access to its internal emergency alert systems. Per the DOH’s complaint, an anonymous sender used the system to warn employees “to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” and that they “don’t have to be part” of something they “know” is wrong.

Jones later filed suit against these law enforcement officials arguing that the search warrant was served “with no legitimate object or purpose,” aside from terrorizing her and her family.

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In the aftermath of the raid, one of Jones’s followers set up a legal defense fund on GoFundMe that racked up close to $168,000 dollars within little more than a day after Jones tweeted out the above. As of this writing, that number’s jumped up to more than $290,000.

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Ultimately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged Jones on “one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices,” according to a local CBS affiliate. “Evidence retrieved from a search warrant on December 7 shows that Jones illegally accessed the system sending a message to approximately 1,750 people and downloaded confidential FDOH data and saved it to her devices,” the Department added.

Before turning herself in, Jones tweeted out on Sunday that “Insurrectionists planning attacks across the country this week and Florida is jailing scientists for the crimes of knowing and speaking.”

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She later added she was “censored by the state of Florida until further notice.”

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

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DISCUSSION

joehawkeye
Go Hawkeyes

As a fellow data scientist, I applaud her efforts and dedication to the truth of the numbers.

However, if she really was illegally accessing the systems of her former employer, then she deserved the search and seizure and subsequent arrest.