ICYMI: Ron DeSantis’ Administration Turns to Physical Intimidation to Hide COVID-19 Data
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration came under fire this week for sending in a team of agents to raid the home of a former state data scientist. DeSantis is so committed to undermining facts and public health that he’s resorting to using physical violence to intimidate scientists.
Rebekah Jones, a top scientist who was fired for refusing to manipulate Florida’s COVID-19 data to support DeSantis’ reopening plan, filmed agents raiding her home on Monday with weapons drawn. Jones said the agents pointed guns at her and her children before taking away her phone and computer.
Yesterday, a Republican member of a Florida judicial nominating commission resigned his position over the governor’s treatment of Jones, adding that DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic is “reckless and irresponsible.”
DeSantis has a scary history of denying facts and science during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the governor hired known conspiracy theorist and sports blogger, Kyle Lamb, to perform COVID-19 research for Florida.
Read more about DeSantis’ attempt to intimidate the scientific community below:
Florida authorities investigating an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system raided the home Monday of Rebekah Jones, who was fired earlier this year from her job as COVID-19 data curator. Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that Jones, who was fired for unauthorized public comments about the data in May, has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.
Jones tweeted video of the officers entering her home, claiming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis “sent the gestapo” to silence her.
Jones was fired from her post in May after she raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data. She had been reprimanded several times and was ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.
The former Florida state data scientist whose house was raided by police on Monday says she isn’t just worried about the legal ramifications she’s facing, but also for other state employees who leaked her damaging information on Florida’s coronavirus response.
Rebekah Jones, who was fired after accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration of minimizing the pandemic and skewing state data, attracted national attention after her house was raided by armed state police on Monday morning. State authorities are investigating whether she accessed a government messaging system without authorization to send a message urging her former colleagues to speak out about coronavirus deaths.
Since her firing, she’s emerged as a public critic of the DeSantis administration’s approach to the pandemic, blasting the governor and publishing her own dashboard of coronavirus stats. Jones said she received various internal records from people who worked for the state, including what she said was proof that state officials “were lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the CDC.”
That evidence was on “a bunch of flash drives” that officers took when they raided her house, she said. Jones, who was not arrested or criminally charged, also had documents that she had legally accessed when she was a state employee, she said.
Now, legal experts say, the material could theoretically be used to target Jones’ sources if they violated rules about sharing internal information. The search warrant allowed officers to recover “any and all computer equipment” that stores or transmits data, including hard drives, devices, software, and correspondence “pertaining to the possession, receipt, origin or distribution of data involving the facilitation of computer crimes offenses.”
Florida law enforcement agents searched the home of former state data scientist Rebekah Jones on Monday, entering her house with weapons drawn as they carried out a warrant as part of an investigation into an unauthorized message that was sent on a state communications system.
“At 8:30 am this morning, state police came into my house and took all my hardware and tech,” Jones said via Twitter. She added, “They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint.”
The Florida Department of Health is the agency that fired Jones in May, after she helped create the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Jones has said she lost her job after she refused requests to manipulate data to suggest Florida was ready to ease coronavirus restrictions. A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the time that she “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department.”
Data scientist Rebekah Jones accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of trying to “intimidate scientists and get back at me, while trying to get to my sources” following an armed raid on her home.
Jones, who has been embroiled in an argument with the governor over the alleged under-reporting of COVID death figures, shared video footage of the raid on Monday and said she was shown a warrant based on a Florida Department of Health complaint.
Florida officials have said the action was related to a recent computer hack at DOH, which resulted in staff receiving an unauthorised message urging them to “speak out.” According to an affidavit by an investigator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the message was traced to an IP address connected to Jones’ house.
Jones denies any involvement. Speaking to CNN after the raid, Jones said she had not improperly accessed any communication system, that she no longer had access to her state accounts after being removed from her role in May, and that she is “not a hacker.”
She has claimed that she lost her position in May for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data in order to make the state outbreak seem less severe as leaders moved to lift restrictions for businesses and reopen its economy.
U.S. law enforcement agents on Monday raided the home of a top data scientist who helped build Florida state’s online COVID dashboard and alleged she was fired from her government job because she refused to manipulate data.
The home of Rebekah Jones in Tallahassee, Florida, was raided by agents executing a search warrant on suspicion that Jones hacked into a state Department of Health communications system, said Rick Swearingen, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Swearingen said agents “seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.” Jones, in a Twitter post, said her phone “and all my hardware and tech” were confiscated.
Jones told the Miami Herald that she thinks investigators are not after her – but are actually trying to find out which state employees have spoken with her since she was fired in May.
Associated Press: DeSantis appointee quits over raid on ex-state worker’s home
A man appointed to a commission that recommends judicial appointments to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resigned citing the search warrant served on a former Department of Health employee who has criticized the state’s COVID-19 data.
Ron Filipowski announced his resignation from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission on Twitter on Tuesday, saying a raid at the home of Rebekah Jones was unconscionable.
Images of state agents drawing guns as they raided the home of the fired Florida Department of Healthdata scientist Rebekah Jones Monday were met with alarm by fellow researchers and academics across the United States.
“Brazen actions by Florida authorities demand greater transparency to protect the free flow of information and rights of the public,” the American Association of Geographers wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.
Since her firing from DOH, Jones has amassed a significant social media following. To some, she’s a whistleblower and hero. Others have criticized her for using her platform to overstep the boundaries of her expertise. That said, the image of state agents with guns drawn in Jones’ home was unsettling, other scientists said, even as they acknowledged much remains unknown about the circumstances that led to the raid.
“It’s a scary time. When you’re simply doing your job, and you could get thrown in jail because people don’t like how you’re doing a job, it’s scary,” said Jay Metzger the president of the New England chapter of URISA, a national association of GIS professionals. Metzger also is the GIS manager for the Rhode Island Department of Health, and set up that state’s coronavirus data portal, but clarified he was speaking to FLORIDA TODAY, part of the USA TODAY Network, in his capacity as president of NEURISA.
Tampa Bay Times: GOP lawyer resigns over treatment of Florida data analyst
A Sarasota lawyer resigned his appointment to the panel that picks judges on Tuesday to call attention to the way Gov. Ron DeSantis has handled “public access to truthful data” and the raiding of a data analyst’s home.
Ron Filipkowski, a Marine veteran, former state and federal prosecutor, and a lifelong Republican who was appointed to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission by DeSantis resigned Tuesday morning after reviewing the search warrant affidavit the state used to seize computers and phones from Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health data analyst who has been running an alternative web site to the state’s COVID dashboard.
Filipkowski, 52, who has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission for 10 years and was twice appointed to the role by former Gov. Rick Scott and once by DeSantis, called the governor’s handling of the pandemic “reckless and irresponsible.”
“The recent events regarding public access to truthful data on the pandemic, and the specific treatment of Rebekah Jones has made the issue a legal one rather than just medical,’’ he wrote in a letter to the governor’s general counsel. “…I no longer wish to serve the current government of Florida in any capacity.”
Filipkowski, who is also a former general counsel to the Sarasota Republican Party, said that although he has been increasingly frustrated by the DeSantis administration and its handling of the coronavirus crisis, the situation seemed political, he said.
Orlando Journal Sentinel: FDLE raid on Rebekah Jones’ home prompts criticism and a resignation
The fallout over a state police raid of a former state worker suspected of hacking into an emergency communications system continued to hound Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration Tuesday, as a Cabinet member criticized the move and a member of an important judicial panel resigned in protest over what happened.
Ron Filipkowski quit the 12th Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission, saying he couldn’t serve on the panel in light of DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s raid of Rebekah Jones’ home. The panel interviews and nominates judges for the circuit covering Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.
“I believe the policy of this state towards (COVID-19) is reckless and irresponsible,” said Filipkowski, a Republican, in his resignation letter. “I remained in my position because health policy was unrelated to my job on the JNC. However, the recent events regarding public access to truthful data on the pandemic, and the specific treatment of Rebekah Jones, has made the issue a legal one rather than just medical.”
Filipkowski was also critical of the raid and said he didn’t believe DeSantis’ spokesman Fred Piccolo’s statements that the governor wasn’t aware of it.
“The gentleman is entitled to his opinion. I stand by my comments,” Piccolo said in response. “The governor was not involved in any aspect of the investigation into the illegal access of the emergency text system. This is purely a law enforcement matter.”
Jones, a former Department of Health employee who helped create the state’s dashboard containing COVID-19 data, was fired for insubordination last May after she objected to orders to obscure some of the data. Jones has contended she was ordered to hide certain numbers to make the pandemic look less serious than it actually was.