Taylor Swift’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to a college student who uses public flight data to track private jet usage, suggesting his social media accounts were aiding Swift’s stalkers and threatening her safety.
As The Washington Post reports, the letter was sent to Jack Sweeney, the same programmer and University of Central Florida student briefly suspended from X in Dec. 2022 after his jet tracking account rankled Elon Musk. At the time, Musk characterized the tracking of aircraft as a form of “doxxing,” and compared sharing this flight info — which, again, is culled from publicly available Federal Aviation Administration data — to dropping his “assassination coordinates.”
(Sweeney was eventually able to relaunch his flight tracker account on X, though all data is shared with a 24-hour delay to abide by the site’s real-time location tracking rules.)
Swift’s lawyers, from the law firm Venable, similarly cited safety concerns in the letter they sent to Sweeney last December. They threatened to take legal action if Sweeney didn’t stop his “stalking and harassing behavior” and accused the jet tracker account of causing Swift and her family “direct and irreparable harm, as well as emotional and physical distress.”
The letter also argued that there was “no legitimate interest in or public need for this information, other than to stalk, harass, and exert dominion and control.”
Elsewhere, the letter seems to nod to Sweeney’s dust up with Musk, while hammering home the safety concerns at the heart of the claim. “We are aware of your public disputes with other high-profile individuals and your tactics in those interactions, including offering to stop your harmful behavior only in exchange for items of value,” it reads. “While this may be a game to you, or an avenue that you hope will earn you wealth or fame, it is a life-or-death matter for our Client. Ms. Swift has dealt with stalkers and other individuals who wish her harm.”
(Specifically, Swift’s lawyers seem to be alluding to Musk’s offer to pay Sweeney $5,000 to shut down the flight tracker account. As the now-defunct site Protocol reported in 2022, Sweeney replied, “Any chance to up that to $50k? It would be great support in college and would possibly allow me to get a car maybe even a Model 3.”)
Swift’s spokeswoman, Tree Paine, even issued a rare on-the-record statement about the alleged connection between Swift’s stalkers and the info made available on Sweeney’s jet tracking account. “We cannot comment on any ongoing police investigation but can confirm the timing of stalkers suggests a connection,” she said. “His posts tell you exactly when and where she would be.”
Sweeney has defended his work, suggesting the info he shares is indistinguishable from other forms of publicly available data documenting, broadly speaking, what city or country Swift might be in — such as her tour itinerary or even the Kansas City Chiefs’ NFL schedule.
“This information is already out there,” he said. “Her team thinks they can control the world.”
A lawyer acting on Sweeney’s behalf, James Slater, also issued a response to the cease-and-desist letter. He claimed Swift’s team hadn’t identified any actual legal claims against Sweeney, even though they said his actions were “in violation of several state laws” (none were specified). Slater also argued Sweeney’s account was “engaged in protected speech that does not violate any of Ms. Swift’s legal rights.”
In a statement, Slater added: “This isn’t about putting a GPS tracker on someone and invading their privacy. It’s using public information to track the jet of a public figure. This is their means to try to quash a PR issue and bully my client to have the bad coverage die down.”
To that end, it seems Sweeney received the December cease-and-desist letter around the same time his @TaylorSwiftJets Instagram account shared a post estimating the carbon footprint left by Swift’s travel tied to her Eras Tour and budding relationship with Travis Kelce (allegedly 138 tons of CO2 emissions in three months). Not long after those posts, Sweeney’s Swift-specific flight tracker accounts on Instagram and Facebook were suspended for violating those site’s privacy rules. Curiously, the accounts he maintains on those same platforms tracking the jets of other celebs and public figures — including Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos, Kim Kardashian, and even Instagram and Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg — remain up.
The @TaylorSwiftJets post sparked renewed criticism over Swift’s private jet usage, which has dogged her regularly in recent years. Back in Aug. 2022, the sustainability marketing firm Yard used public flight data to rank the celebrities whose private jets had flown the most that year and subsequently spewed the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Swift topped the list.
At the time, a Swift spokesperson noted that her jet was frequently loaned out to others and said, “To attribute most or all of these trips to her is blatantly incorrect.” Others also cast doubts on the methodology and accuracy of the study.
As for the more recent criticisms, Paine said that before her most recent tour, Swift bought more than double the amount of carbon credits to offset the climate impact of her travel. (There are, however, also doubts over whether carbon offsets actually work in fighting climate change.)
This story was updated @ 2:31 p.m. ET with additional information from the letters sent by Swift’s legal team.