The Rebekah Jones Raid
The most important information to me in any given newsletter is the COVID numbers. That’s what this newsletter is about for as long as this is the topic that steals out attention every week.
At the same time, I want to lead with something different because I think it deserves attention and because it breaks me out of the expectations that I seem to elicit from people. It is the latest news about Rebekah Jones.
The Jones Raid
If you are new to the name Rebekah Jones, she was the dashboard designer for the Florida Department of Health who was fired after she took issue with some of the decision-making within the department and brought those office politics to the media, disparaging her boss and starting a media firestorm. I wrote way way too much about it here.
After she was fired, she started a GoFundMe and launched her own dashboard with the same data sources but with the impression of independence. I wrote about that too. It was fine, good for her, more data is better. Jones really is an enormously talented data manager and dashboard operator and I’m glad she found another way to contribute even after losing her Department of Health job.
Today that story took another turn as her house was raided by state police, who took her computers and phone.
I have only a little information on this, but it is information that I don’t see people talking about so I want to bring it up as well as share my thoughts on how I feel about this incident.
First of all, we need to understand what caused this. Jones implies in her thread that this was a retaliatory strike coming directly from Ron DeSantis because she is doing the Lord’s work of Science. That’s not an exaggeration of her position.
But the search warrant for entering her house tells a fairly convincing story.
In this affidavit, it is detailed how someone accessed a multi-user account in which the username and password was widely known. Having accessed this account the user then sent the following message to all users within that group:
It’s time 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."
The IP address of the person who sent that message was tracked back to Rebekah Jones.
The rationale for raiding Jones’ house with a search warrant was that she had hacked into this account. As a technical person, this made me laugh out loud. If it is a multi-user account and she was an employee of the Department of Health, she almost certainly had the credentials saved somewhere. Here is a list of things that shouldn’t have happened:
She should never have logged into that account. “Hacking” this was not, but it’s extremely poor form to use old work information shared in confidence to access a work account like this.
Jones is a fantastic dashboard designer but not a deeply technical hacker. I do not consider myself technical enough to call myself a hacker and even I have a VPN service that will anonymize my IP address. Had Jones used such a service, her intrusion would have been substantially harder to track.
Jones should not have written that message. Whatever you think about the content of that message (I thought it was a bit over-the-top and dramatic), that’s a good message for twitter and a bad message to send while logged into a multi-user account within the state’s emergency management software.
This should not have turned into a house raid. Any half-competent system administrator would have changed the password and locked the system from further intrusion. There would have been an embarrassing meeting and someone would have gotten egg on their face, but then there would have been a group-wide review of what accounts Jones might still have access to in which all the passwords get changed. Jones should be an annoying ex-employee who won’t shut up on twitter, not a threat to state security.
The cops should not have drawn their weapons. I hate state violence. I hate when guns are drawn. I find myself instinctively on the side of anyone who is in the position where men they don’t know rush into their house with guns in their hands. I don’t trust Rebekah Jones to be an honest data broker but that is not a violent crime and we should not treat her like a violent criminal.
I initially had a list of things that Jones has done that bother me. There’s a lot of them. Jones is an aggressive partisan and acts like it. She frequently goes too far with her rhetoric and writes with a certain reckless anger.
But, on reflection, none of that stuff matters. It would only be me venting about the things that I think are frustrating or annoying given that Jones and I are in opposing political camps (sort of, it’s complicated). But the only point of writing those things would be a rhetorical strategy to diminish Jones for the purpose of making it seem ok that a bunch of cops entered her house with guns drawn because she made a very very stupid decision.
I don’t want that to sound ok. I don’t think it’s ok. I don’t want to be the kind of person who writes 1,000 words constructing a compelling argument that coaxes my audience into believing that this is ok. I think that government intrusion into private property is a very big deal and everything should be done to avoid it. If what I know about this situation is accurate, the Department of Health could have avoided this by just changing some passwords. If that was the choice before them, then sending in cops with guns was the wrong choice.
I hope dearly that this can be resolved without criminal charges or violence, but my sense of things is that we’re past that point. Jones seems determined to fight against the Department of Health in ways that are gray in their legality and the DOH seems determined to respond in ways that they think will act as an effective deterrent but are more likely to stir the pot for future confrontation.
The COVID Situation
Next week will be my monthly state-by-state COVID assessment. Until then, I want to give this short overview. It looks like we are past the peaks in new positive cases in the midwest, mountain states, and plains states. It is hard to tell what is happening in the northeast, southeast, and southern border states. There are some mixed signals and it looks like cases are rising, but they aren’t rising in a clean exponential curve. Until I see that curve, I reserve the right to engage in optimistic hope.
You may have heard that hospitalizations and deaths are both very high and they absolutely are. Part of that is the data reporting catching up from its break over the Thanksgiving weekend and part of it is that the lag from the positive cases peak is coming in. First we see positives, then hospitalizations, then deaths. That is the data progression.
We are already starting to see hospitalizations falling in the states that were hit first in the fall. That’s also part of the pattern, part of the curve. What is really quite remarkable is how closely the pattern of COVID surges matches weather patterns back in October.