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Florida analyst who clashed with governor over Covid data faces arrest

Richard Luscombe in Miami
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/REX/Shutterstock

Rebekah Jones, the founder of Florida’s coronavirus database who has clashed publicly with Governor Ron DeSantis in a dispute over data manipulation, said she would surrender on Sunday after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

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The state department of law enforcement said it would not reveal details of the allegations against the 31-year-old data analyst until she was in custody. The agency had been investigating allegations Jones illegally accessed a state messaging system and staged an armed raid at her Tallahassee home last month.

Jones, who was fired by the Florida department of health in May for insubordination after claiming she was ordered to censor and manipulate information on the database she founded and managed, said she was told the charge was unrelated to that investigation, and accused DeSantis of retaliation.

“The governor will not win his war on science and free speech,” she said in tweets that also confirmed her intention to turn herself in to police on Sunday night. “He will not silence those who speak out.”

The episode prolongs a bitter dispute that began last year when Jones claimed she was told to change data to support the Republican governor’s plan to reopen the state economy despite soaring Covid-19 cases.

Jones was fired by health officials and DeSantis was swift with his own retribution, subjecting Jones to a public character assassination and dismissing her as an insubordinate and disgruntled former employee.

Since her dismissal she has continued to amass and disseminate state Covid-19 information online, maintaining a rival to the official database and more recently compiling and publishing information on cases in Florida schools.

Jones’s December arrest followed an allegation by the Florida health department that an unknown person or persons hacked into a state system used to send emergency communications and sent an unauthorised message to members of a team responsible for coordinating public health and medical response.

The message 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”.

On Saturday, Jones said a law enforcement search of computer equipment seized during the raid on her home in December “found no evidence of a message”.

She conceded that “police did find documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature” but insisted the “crime” was not related to the original warrant.

In her most recent tweet, posted on Sunday lunchtime, Jones said she was “censored by the state of Florida until further notice”.

Jones posted a video of the 7 December raid and said police pointed guns at her children. Her family have since moved out of Florida for safety, she said. A Florida judge is mulling her request for the return of seized computer equipment.

On Sunday, Florida reported 11,093 new cases of coronavirus for a total of 1,571,279, and 135 deaths, bringing that toll to 24,515.