[Fox News] College student who tracks Taylor Swift’s private jet emissions has no plans to stop: ‘Empty legal threat’

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The college student who has garnered national attention for his social media account that tracks the private jet excursions of important public figures spoke with Fox News Digital about his resolve to keep doing so, despite strong warnings and harsh words from the likes of Taylor Swift and Elon Musk. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jack Sweeney, a junior at the University of Central Florida, started tracking the flights and locations of some jet users based on publicly available information. Using the flight data published by the Federal Aviation Administration, Sweeney has tracked the private jet flights of figures like Swift, Musk, Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. 

In December, Swift’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sweeney, blaming his automated tracking of her private jet for tipping off stalkers about her location, stating that “the timing of stalkers” suggests a connection to Sweeney’s flight-tracking sites. Swift, who has dealt with stalkers throughout her career, is in the midst of her record-breaking “Eras” concert tour that’s brought her to new heights of stardom.

Sweeney was also accused of “disregarding the personal safety of others”; “willful and repeated harassment”; and “intentional, offensive, and outrageous conduct and consistent violations of our client’s privacy.”

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“We don’t know what’s happening other than what we’ve been told, but the letter from Ms. Swift’s lawyers came shortly after increased public scrutiny of the carbon emissions from her frequent private jet travel,” Sweeney’s lawyer, Ethan Jacobs, said. “There is not, as we know, a specific threat to Ms. Swift’s personal safety that is the result of somebody knowing when her jet landed someplace.”

“The information that Mr. Sweeney publishes through his accounts lets the public know where celebrities are traveling if they’re interested in them, lets them know about the carbon emissions from their planes and other information that generally benefits society, and making it harder to access would be bad for all of us,” he added. 

Sweeney described it as “really quite unbelievable” that, as a college student, he has powerful people like Swift and her team coming after him. Swift has taken criticism at times for her use of jets and its effect on the environment, but her representatives say she’s purchased more than double the “carbon credits” to offset its impact, according to the Washington Post.

“There’s all kinds of people who track planes, I’m not the only one, it’s just I’m the one getting awareness for it,” Sweeney said.

“It’s crazy to send a letter like that when there were thousands of people tracking her besides me and you want me to stop?” he added. “It’s kind of crazy because other people are going to do it anyway, and at the end of the day, it’s public information. I’m not doing anything illegal.”

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Using publicly available transponder signals transmitted by planes, he said he and thousands of other aviation hobbyists use the transponder signals that are transmitted openly in the air from planes. This data is mandated by the FAA. 

Sweeney said he has simply made it easier for people to view this data by setting up automated social media accounts to track the miles, location, jet fuel, cost of fuel and tons of CO2 emissions for every flight a public figure takes. If people have expertise and know what they are doing, Sweeney said anybody could do what he does.

Jacobs said Sweeney has done nothing unlawful by creating social media accounts that are only republishing public information, calling it an empty threat.

“The letter that Ms. Swift’s team of lawyers sent to Mr. Sweeney, does some sort of hand-waving to suggest that his account is unlawful,” he said. “But it’s also only in the most vague kind of way. That’s because there is no law that prohibits republishing the publicly available flight information that is on the accounts that Mr. Sweeney makes available.” 

Sweeney was suspended from Twitter, now X, in 2022 by owner Elon Musk, who said the sharing of real-time location information violated the platform’s terms of service and was dangerous for himself and members of his family. Sweeney’s account has since been restored. 

“Sweeney is an awful human being,” Musk posted on Feb. 6. “Taylor Swift is right to be concerned.”

“These are some of the biggest people in the world and really, I started out being a fan of Elon Musk, and now he obviously really does not like me,” Sweeney said. “Which is unbelievable.”

“I like to just bring awareness to the facts and information,” he added. “I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t or should use private jets, I just want to put the information there. I don’t want to force anybody’s view on anything.”

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington, told “Good Morning America” earlier this month that he didn’t see any civil or criminal violation in Sweeney’s conduct.

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Sweeney said he plans to continue doing what he does because he believes it’s important knowledge for people to have. 

“I’m not going to let someone in a bigger power position try to hide that information from the people when I think the fact of them trying to hide it makes it even much more important for transparency to be shared,” he said. 

Jacobs said it’s common for wealthy people to have teams of people working for them, which includes lawyers, who send letters to try to “push people around.”

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In the letter to Sweeney, Swift’s lawyers called him out as “notorious for disregarding the personal safety of others in exchange for public attention and/or requests for financial gain.” Jacobs said he and Sweeney don’t take lightly the question of whether it is the right thing to do. 

“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,” Swift’s team wrote in the letter. “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.”

Tree Paine, a spokeswoman for Swift, told the Washington Post earlier this month, “We cannot comment on any ongoing police investigation but can confirm the timing of stalkers suggests a connection. His posts tell you exactly when and where she would be.”

Jacobs said Sweeney had not been made aware of evidence that his account could help someone hurt Swift. He added such letters from powerful people like Swift might chill speech even if there is no legal basis. 

Representatives for Swift and Musk didn’t return requests for comment.

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