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Former DOH data scientist Rebekah Jones booked into Leon County Detention Facility

Accused of unauthorized computer access
wptv-Rebekah-Jones.jpg
Posted at 8:05 AM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 16:06:41-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Former Florida Department of Health data scientist Rebekah Jones is facing a felony charge after turning herself in on a warrant related to unauthorized computer access of the Florida Department of Health's state messaging system.

According to records at the Leon County Detention Facility, Jones turned herself into police custody Sunday night.

This comes after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed Saturday that there is an active arrest warrant for Jones.

“FDLE agents have been working with her attorney to have her turn herself in. Our case remains active,” said Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for FDLE, in a statement sent to ABC 27.

After being booked into the Leon County jail on Sunday night, Jones was given a COVID-19 test by jail staff, which returned a positive result, her lawyer Steve Dobson told ABC 27. Dobson said he also recently recovered from the coronavirus and therefore has temporary immunity.

Jones was released on a $2,500 bond following a court appearance on Monday, according to Dobson.

According to a complaint document obtained by ABC 27, Jones is facing a single felony property crimes charge for allegedly accessing a computer network or electronic device without authorization after someone breached state systems in November, sending messages to state employees urging them to speak out.

Documents show that FDLE was informed about the message by the Florida Department of Health on November 10, 2020.

Investigators said the message had been sent to roughly 1,750 people at 2:44 p.m. that day and read: "It's time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don't have to be apart of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it's too late. -From StateESF8.Planning."

Documents show the message was sent from FDOH's ReadyOp system, which is meant to be used in "emergency and disaster situations only."

The message was sent to employees involved in the ESF8 group, who are involved in the coordination of the state's health and medical resources. Agents said Jones was also assigned to the ESF8 group.

According to the probable cause document, two more messages were sent to two other witnesses minutes before the mass text, both messages urging the recipients to "speak out."

When agents spoke to one of the witnesses, documents state that the witness confirmed that Jones was "not authorized to access view, review, edit or send any messages or any other information" through the FDOH's system since her dismissal.

"While employed with FDOH, Jones' role would not have required her to send messages through the ReadyOp system," the witness told agents. "If, for some unforeseen reason, Jones needed to send a message during her employment with FDOH, it would have required prior supervisor approval."

Documents show FDLE agents traced the IP address the message was sent from to Jones' Tallahassee home and obtained a warrant to search her home on December 7, 2020. During the search, agents seized Jones' computer, a Hewlett Packer desktop.

During forensic analysis, agents said evidence revealed Jones' computer was responsible for two separate accesses to the FDOH's system. Documents show a file was downloaded to the computer called 'Roster_contacts."

The large file, which agents said equated to roughly 600-700 sheets of paper, "contained the contact information for approximately 19,182 people across the State of Florida."

"Computer forensics revealed Jones downloaded and saved this file (which is FDOH intellectual property) to two different destinations," the probable cause document read. "One destination was a shared folder on [Jones' computer]. The other destination was Jones' personal Microsoft OneDrive Storage Device."

The discovery led the FDLE to obtain another search warrant for Jones' personal OneDrive account on December 17, 2020, where they located the FDOH contacts file.

As the FDLE continued investigating, documents show further review of the FDOH's access logs revealed additional unauthorized access attempts to the state's ReadyOp system on November 12, 2020. Both attempts were traced back to a different IP address linked to Jones.

"Jones' actions caused doubt and confusion amongst many of the working groups that share the multi-user account for ESF-8 Planning and Preparedness as they were unsure whether this message was sent by official personnel," agents wrote in the complaint document. "It also resulted in personnel with FDOH Information Technology Services having to stop their current work assignments and divert their attention to addressing this possible cyber-attack."

Based on the evidence collected, agents found probable cause to charge Jones for unauthorized computer access.

You can read the full warrant below or at this link.


Rebekah Jones Warrant/Proba... by ABC 27

Before turning herself in, Jones said in a lengthy Twitter thread posted Saturday that she would be turning herself in Sunday night "to protect my family from continued police violence, and to show that I'm ready to fight whatever they throw at me."

"Saying goodbye to my family just now is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Jones wrote.

In those tweets, Jones alleged that while the FDLE found "no evidence" of the mass text sent to DOH employees in November, "police did find documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature."

She continued to decry the FDLE and the state's actions writing, "The Governor will not win his war on science and free speech. He will not silence those who speak out.”

Jones made national headlines in May when she went public with accusations that FDOH fired her when she said she was asked, but refused to manipulate COVID-19 case numbers around the same time Governor Ron DeSantis announced plans to reopen businesses in the state.

Since the FDLE began their investigation, Jones' has sued them for violating her first, fourth, and fourteenth amendment rights during the search of her home in early December.