Florida data scientist faces police break-in

In May, Rebekah Jones was fired from the Florida Department of Health. As a specialist in geographic information systems (GIS), she worked on the department’s COVID-19 dashboard; she claims that she was fired because she refused to manipulate data to look like Florida was in a better spot for reopening. After her firing, Jones started her own, independent Florida dashboard which includes more open information and methodology details. She also started the COVID Monitor, a school data tracking project which I have cited in previous newsletters.

This past Monday, Florida state police raided Jones’ home. They seized her computer, which she had been using to update her Florida state and school data dashboards. They also pointed guns at her and her children.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a search warrant against Jones, who is suspected of hacking into the state Emergency Response Team’s communications and sending an unauthorized message. Jones has stated that she believes this action was actually an attempt to silence her. She has been a vocal critic of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his mishandling of the pandemic in her state, as well as of school reopenings across the country.

Whether the police raid was due to legitimate hacking concerns or political motivation, there should be no excuse for this type of violence:

Thanks to this tweet—which quickly went viral—the raid against Jones became a national story. She’s appeared on several news networks and garnered sympathy from science communication leaders. Ron Filipkowski, a Florida attorney who was a longtime member of a committee to appoint judges in the state, resigned from his post in protest of this raid.

The nation watched this spring and summer as journalists faced police violence while covering Black Lives Matter protests. Journalists were tear-gassed, shoved, and arrested, but continued to do their jobs. Like many of those journalists, Jones is dedicated to her data and her view of public accountability. Both of her dashboards have continued to update since Monday.

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