American pop star Taylor Swift’s lawyers are embroiled in a legal battle with a Florida college student who tracks her private jet use.
The issue, which has ignited a debate over privacy, safety, and environmental concerns began when Jack Sweeney, a 21-year-old student, shared the movements of Swift’s private jet flights along with their impact on climate change.
In December, Swift’s lawyer, Katie Wright Morrone, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sweeney, accessed by the Washington Post, that claimed that Sweeney’s tracking of Swift’s private jet caused “direct and irreparable harm” and “emotional and physical distress” to Swift and her family, and fueled her “constant state of fear for her personal safety.”
“While this may be a game to you,” Morrone wrote, referring to Sweeney’s public defense of his actions, “it is a life-or-death matter for our Client.” She argued there was “no legitimate interest” in the information aside from “stalking, harassing, and exerting dominion and control.”
Sweeney, who uses publicly available data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and data collected by hobbyists to track aircrafts via the signals they broadcast, disputed these claims and continued tracking Swift’s jet on other platforms even after being banned from Facebook and Instagram.
Commercial aircrafts routinely transmit their location, visible to both air traffic control and the transmissions can be picked up by anyone with a device known as the ADS-B receiver.
Sweeney shared his methods on X after being called out for his actions by fans of the singer.
“I use unencrypted signals broadcast straight from planes (ADS-B). FAA/ICAO mandates aircraft broadcast locations using ADS-B. Hobbyists operate networks that collect these unencrypted signals,” Sweeney said.
There is a bit of misinformation circulating. I don’t use tracking data from the FAA. I use unencrypted signals broadcast straight from planes (ADS-B). FAA/ICAO mandates aircraft broadcast locations using ADS-B. Hobbyists operate networks that collect these unencrypted signals.
Since 2020, Sweeney has been sharing real-time data of the private jet usage of several celebrities through social media accounts. He created the account @ElonJet on X, in June of 2020, which automatically posted Musk’s Gulfstream G650 jet’s flights along with a map, while also sharing an approximation of the flight’s carbon footprint.
After having amassed over 526,000 followers, the account was suspended by X for alleged rule violations. The platform’s response was criticized heavily online after Musk had posted about his intention to keep the account running, sharing just how committed he was to free speech.
“My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk,” Musk shared.
My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk
“Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation,” Musk had later shared on X.
‘Doxxing’ refers to the act of publicly revealing private or identifying information about someone, usually online, without their consent.
Beyond Musk, Sweeney cast his tracking net wider, creating bots for Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, and more. During the Russia-Ukraine war, he started publishing locations of Russian oligarch jets, all along with estimations of planet-warming emissions of the flights.
Despite the ban by X, Sweeney resurfaced on Facebook and Instagram, tracking celebrity jets.
Eventually, Sweeney side-stepped X’s rules regarding real-time location tracking and started posting Musk and Swift’s flight maps with a 24-hour-delay.
Private jets, notorious for their outsized carbon footprint, regularly face scrutiny thanks to Sweeney’s accounts. Back in 2022, Swift was dubbed the “biggest celebrity polluter” with a total of 170 flights and carbon emissions more than 1,184.8 times that of an average person’s, based on his data.
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