TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The ex-Florida data scientist whose home was raided after she accused the state of manipulating COVID-19 data turned herself in to authorities on Sunday night and was released on a $2,500 bond Monday.
According to an affidavit, Rebekah Jones is accused of hacking a state government communication system to send an unauthorized message to thousands of people that criticized Florida’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The message, sent in November, urged recipients 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,” the message said.
The virus, to date, has infected more than 1,571,000 people in Florida. More than 24,000 have died.
In December, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement executed a search warrant on Jones’ home, seizing her computers, phones and external storage devices.
“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones recalled.
After the raid, Jones said she moved her family to Washington, D.C. because she feared for the safety.
According to the affidavit, a forensic analysis of Jones’ computer revealed it was responsible for two unauthorized accesses of state data. Authorities accused Jones of downloading more than 600 to 700 pages worth of state records, which included the contact information of approximately 19,182 people onto her computer and saving it to a shared folder and her personal hard drive.
“FDLE found no evidence of a message sent last Nov. to DOH staff telling them to ‘speak out’ on any of the devices they took … However, police did find documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature,” Jones said on Twitter Saturday.
In her last tweet, posted Sunday, Jones said she had been “censored by the state of Florida until further notice.”
Jones turned herself in to the Leon County Detention Center at about 11:15 p.m. Sunday night. She appeared in court shortly before 10 a.m. Monday.
Jones was charged “with one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices,” the FDLE said.
Prosecutors were seeking a $5,000 bond with conditions of “no computer access, no internet access, and no contact with the witnesses or those people whose personal information was acquired through the download.” They also asked that she wear an ankle monitor.
A judge agreed to release Jones on a $2,500 bond. It’s unclear if she will have to wear an ankle monitor or be banned from computer access.
Last May, Jones claimed she was ordered to censor and manipulate data while designing and managing the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. She was fired for insubordination.
Since her dismissal, Jones has criticized Florida’s coronavirus response and even launched her own dashboard to track COVID-19 in schools.