Florida agents raid COVID-19 data scientist’s home after controversial firing
By ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Florida law enforcement agents raided the home of a data scientist Monday, alleging the scientist had hacked into the state’s emergency alert system.
Rebekah Jones was the state’s coronavirus data scientist until May, when she was fired over a disagreement about Florida’s COVID-19 tracking data. After her firing, Jones launched her own competing COVID-19 dashboard, which showed higher case counts and deaths than the state’s did.
Florida health officials have denied any issue with the state’s coronavirus data accuracy.
According to Jones, who described the raid on Twitter, agents entered her home at 8:30 a.m. and served her a warrant, then took her phone and computer.
“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” she wrote.
Rick Swearingen, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), said in a statement that the investigation began last month after the Florida Department of Health filed a complaint that someone had hacked into their alert system and used it to send a message. He confirmed that FDLE agents served a search warrant at Jones’ residence, “after determining the home was the location that the unauthorized message was sent from.”
According to Swearingen, agents knocked on the door and called Jones to announce the search warrant. The commissioner said Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents.
“At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home,” he said.
After Jones allowed FDLE inside, Swearingen said agents “seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.”
According to the search warrant affidavit, the raid was related to a text message, which was sent to about 1,750 people on Nov. 10 using the state’s emergency alert system: “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late,” the message read.
The affidavit said investigators traced the message to an IP address related to Jones.
Jones denied hacking into the health department’s alert system and sending the “speak out” text messages during an interview on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time on Monday, telling Chris Cuomo that she believes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to intimidate scientists.
“The number of deaths that the person used wasn’t even right,” she said of the text message. “I take that number and every number I publish very seriously.”
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. A spokesperson told CNN the governor’s office “had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation” and added that law enforcement began investigating the message before anyone knew of Jones’ alleged involvement.
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