With guns drawn, police raid home and seize computers of COVID-19 data whistleblower

Eight months ago, Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force praised Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard as an example of “the kind of knowledge and power we need to put into the hands of the American people.” That dashboard was built by Rebekah Jones.

But in May, Jones was fired by the Florida Department of Health for reportedly refusing to manipulate that data to justify reopening the state — and now, Florida state police have raided her home and taken the equipment she was using to maintain a new, independent COVID-19 tracker of her own.

Jones posted a series of tweets about the incident, including a video of police entering — with guns drawn.

1/
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

Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed to the Miami Herald and the Tallahassee Democrat that police had a search warrant and had seized her equipment. Here’s the department’s full statement as provided to The Verge:

“This morning FDLE served a search warrant at a residence on Centerville Court in Tallahassee, the home of Rebekah Jones. FDLE began an investigation November 10, 2020 after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to a Department of Health messaging system which is part of an emergency alert system, to be used for emergencies only. Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system.

When agents arrived, they knocked on the door and called Ms. Jones in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents. After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter. Ms. Jones family was upstairs when agents made entry into the home.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported last month, someone mysteriously sent an unauthorized message to the state’s emergency public health and medical coordination team, reading “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.”

According to an affidavit provided to us by the FDLE, law enforcement believes that Jones or someone at her address was the one who sent it. We’re not publishing the affidavit because it contains lots of personally identifying information, but the FDLE claims the message was sent from a Comcast IP associated with her home address and email address, and the affidavit asks permission to seize and search all computer equipment police might find.

While there was a suggestion last month that the system might have been hacked, it apparently didn’t have particularly strong security anyhow: the affidavit says all of the registered users shared the same username and password.

Jones didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but on Twitter she says she’s getting a new computer and will continue to update her new website.

If Desantis thought pointing a gun in my face was a good way to get me to shut up, he’s about to learn just how wrong he was.

I’ll have a new computer tomorrow.

And then I’m going to get back to work.

If you want to help, my website is still at https://t.co/JbQtrVbRuv

— Rebekah Jones (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020

Additional reporting by Mitchell Clark

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