Late Sunday, January 17, COVID-19 data scientist Rebekah Jones turned herself in to Florida Law Enforcement authorities. The charge against her, according to a press release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) on the 18th, is “one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices”. She allegedly hacked a government communication system and sent an authorized message urging workers to “[s]peak up before another 17,000 are dead.”
She was released on the 18th with a bond of $2,500, and is allowed to have internet access—but is not allowed to access the Florida Department of Health website—until her trial. According to her attorney, she tested positive for COVID-19 before her release. The main dashboard for her project, Florida Covid Action, is still updating as of 6:44 PM on January 22nd, and The COVID Monitor (her tracker of COVID-19 cases in schools) appears to still be active as well.
Earlier in December, Jones faced a police break-in as police raided her house to search for evidence that she had illegally accessed government data. They seized her phone and computer, and pointed guns at her and her children. Jones denies all charges, and she sued the FDLE for “violat[ing] her rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments”, along with “terroriz[ing]” her family.
Jones was fired from her government job in May 2020, in what she claims was retaliation for her refusal to manipulate data in order to make it look like Florida was in a better position to reopen than it actually was. Since her firing, she has maintained two ongoing COVID-19 data projects: Florida Covid Action uses open-source information as an alternative general dashboard, and The Covid Monitor tracks K-12 school data nationwide. (We’ve used their dashboard before in our schools coverage.)
It is unclear when Jones’ next court appearance will be. For now, she has been cleared to return to her home in Maryland, where she moved out of fear for her family’s safety.
We’re covering her story because whether the allegations against her prove true or not, Florida leadership and law enforcement clearly consider Jones a threat. And no matter the outcome of the trial, her story forces us to question the state of Florida’s commitment to unaltered, accurate data.