Florida state agents raid home of COVID-19 whistleblower

On Dec. 7, heavily armed agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement raided the home and confiscated computer equipment of Florida whistleblower and data scientist Rebekah Jones, carrying out a search warrant. Currently Gov. Ron DeSantis is scrambling to defend this raid, claiming his office did not know of the warrant, while Republican appointee to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission, Ron Filipkowski, has resigned in disgust over the incident.

Jones was fired earlier this year from her position as a data scientist with the Florida Department of Health where she was among the early architects of the state’s COVID-19 data portal. Jones told NPR in June that she was fired because she refused to change COVID-19 numbers when Department of Health officials asked her to before the state began reopening, and has been critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approach to tackling rising cases in Florida. She has since launched a whistleblower suit against the state. 

Since her firing, Jones set up an independent coronavirus database after raising enough funds through crowdsourcing and has been tracking infectious cases. She also released emails from her supervisors asking her to remove access to data on the dashboard and take it offline completely.

However, on Nov. 10, the FDLE began investigating Jones after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health alleging she made unauthorized access to an alert system designated for emergencies only and sent a  message to DOH employees. Jones denies the allegations of involvement with this breach. She told CNN about the raid: “This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people. … If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he’s wrong.”

Saul Kanowitz, a public health data analyst, told Liberation News that, “the militarized way the raid on Jones’ home and the confiscation of her hardware and related property is intended to stymie other activists and organizations that are working to fight the pandemic based on what is in the best interest of the people.”

This raid comes at a time when the most recent CDC data indicates that Florida surpassed 19,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, and last week, Florida became the third state in the United States to exceed 1 million cases. 

This unilateral targeting of whistleblowers amidst a pandemic compounds the public’s distrust in the government and public health official’s ability to appropriately respond to a pandemic that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Kanowitz describes the raid and criminalizing of a public health scientists as an impetus for skeptics and right wingers to further defy over 150 years of public health practices leading to a continued surge of COVID-19 cases.

“The interests of the capitalist class have prevented the implementation of a comprehensive program to guarantee the health and well-being of the working class and the people of this country. Investigative efforts like the one by Jones only shine a spotlight on the failures of this profits-first, people-last system. The ruling class politicians want to control the message about the pandemic and shape and manage public opinion. The ruling class does not want an independent mobilization against the pandemic that is not fettered by the interests of big business,” said Kanowitz. 

Feature image: Rebekah Jones (left); video footage of raid from Jones’s Twitter. Liberation graphic.

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