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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A judge agreed to release Rebekah Jones, the state’s former COVID-19 data manager, on $2,500 bond on Monday after she was arrested by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on a charge of illegally accessing a computer system.
She had turned herself in to the Leon County detention facility on Sunday night. As conditions for her release, she is not allowed to access state computer systems or use any of the information she allegedly downloaded.
Jones was the principal force behind the state’s coronavirus dashboard in the early days of the pandemic. In May, she was fired from her post at the Florida Department of Health, where she was manager of Geographic Information Systems.
She said she was fired because she refused to fudge figures about the virus. The state says she was fired for insubordination. Jones has a pending whistleblower lawsuit against the state over her firing.
After leaving the Florida Department of Health, Jones set up her own coronavirus dashboard to present the state’s data to the public.
The FDLE says its investigation began Nov. 10, after the agency received a complaint from the Florida Department of Health that someone illegally accessed a state emergency-alert messaging system. Agents said they found messages sent from Jones’s home in Tallahassee. They said Jones illegally accessed the state system, sending emails to approximately 1,750 people. They also said she downloaded confidential data and saved it to her devices.
FDLE said Jones’s messages to state employees included: “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.”
At that time,17,460 coronavirus deaths had been recorded in Florida. The death toll now stands at more than 24,000.
FDLE said Jones tried to access the system again on Nov. 12, but was blocked after the state added extra levels of security.