PEN America Condemns Raid on Florida COVID Scientist’s House
Law enforcement confiscated Rebekah Jones' phone and computer in what appears to be retaliation for her exercise of First Amendment rights
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Florida law enforcement with guns drawn raided the home of a former state data scientist this week who said she was fired earlier this year after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to support the government’s plans to reopen. PEN America today said the search appeared to be a continuation of retaliatory attempts to intimidate and silence Rebekah Jones.
Florida authorities claimed Jones had engaged in unauthorized use of a Department of Health messaging system after her firing, although reporting by The Verge suggests that system may be accessible through publicly available information.
“The use of such disturbingly aggressive scare tactics to silence someone whose initial ‘crime’ was refusing to manipulate important public health information is shocking and inappropriate” said PEN America’s Nora Benavidez, director of the organization’s U.S. free expression programs. “In the context of her firing, this raid on Jones’s home and confiscation of her phone and computer smacks of further retaliation for her outspokenness about the pressure she faced, and her ongoing work to provide the public with important COVID-19 data. It begs the question: Why is the Florida state government so focused on keeping the public in the dark? The people of Florida deserve facts, not bullying.”
In May, officials removed Jones from her position at the Florida Department of Health; she claimed she was fired after she refused to alter health data about the pandemic. Since then she has published her own COVID-19 data dashboard. A short video she posted online Tuesday shows law enforcement agents entering her home with firearms.