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Agents raid home of ousted Florida health scientist who accused state of manipulating data

Florida state police raided a home on Monday belonging to a scientist who created the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard but was fired for what she says was her refusal to “manipulate data.” 

Agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) entered Rebekah Jones’s home with guns raised and confiscated computer equipment, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Jones tweeted a video of the incident, writing, “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 [Department of Health] filed a complaint. They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids.”

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FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told the newspaper that Jones ignored door knocks and verbal notifications to serve a legal search warrant. Jones's husband and two children were in her home upstairs when the agents made their way in.

"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," said Plessinger in a statement confirming the seizure of Jones’s equipment.

Jones stated that she has no knowledge of how to hack into computer systems.

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An unidentified subject reportedly accessed the system and sent out a group text that read, "It's time to 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 the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has surpassed 19,000 deaths due to the coronavirus. Last week, Florida became the third state in the U.S. to surpass 1 million cases.

An FDLE investigator said the source of the text was determined through an IP address associated with Jones's Comcast account.

In a another tweet, Jones said, "They took my phone and the computer I use every day to post the case numbers in Florida, and school cases for the entire country. They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo."

In May, Jones was fired from the Florida Department of Health, where she had worked as geographic information systems manager. The COVID-19 dashboard Jones created was praised for its quality, the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

After her termination, she released emails from her supervisors asking her to remove access to data on the dashboard and take it offline completely. Jones alleges that her termination had to do with her refusal to "manually change data" that made the state’s reopening plan appear more favorable.

Jones created her own COVID-19 data platform after being fired called "The COVID Monitor." According to Jones, the data and backups that powered this platform were also taken during the raid.

The incident occurred less than a week after the Sun Sentinel released a report stating that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisTrump to attend private RNC donor retreat DeSantis easily defeats Rubio, Scott in hypothetical presidential primary: poll Florida official tells offices to disregard DeSantis order to lower flags in Limbaugh's honor MORE's (R) administration had instructed department of health spokespeople to avoid talking about the pandemic until after the Nov. 3 election.

The Sun Sentinel reported that DeSantis and his allies had engaged in a widespread campaign to downplay and misinterpret information on the COVID-19 pandemic. It included ignoring qualified experts on immunology, spreading misinformation through social media and denying the existence of community spread at the beginning of the pandemic.