Sweeney’s accounts fueled a free-speech debate in late 2022 when X, formerly Twitter, banned Sweeney for sharing what the platform’s owner, Elon Musk, said were his “assassination coordinates.” The accounts don’t say who travels on the aircraft or where they go once the planes land.
In December, Swift’s attorney at the Washington law firm Venable wrote Sweeney a cease-and-desist letter saying Swift would “have no choice but to pursue any and all legal remedies” if he did not stop his “stalking and harassing behavior.”
Sweeney’s accounts had caused Swift and her family “direct and irreparable harm, as well as emotional and physical distress,” and had heightened her “constant state of fear for her personal safety,” the lawyer, Katie Wright Morrone, wrote, according to a copy of the letter sent to the home of Sweeney’s parents. Sweeney shared the letter with The Washington Post.
“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,” Morrone wrote. She added that there is “no legitimate interest in or public need for this information, other than to stalk, harass, and exert dominion and control.”
The pop star has routinely faced stalkers showing up outside her homes, Morrone wrote, and one man now faces stalking and harassment charges after being arrested last month outside her townhouse in Manhattan.
Asked whether Swift’s representatives knew of any evidence that stalkers had used the jet-tracking accounts, Tree Paine, a spokeswoman for Swift, said, “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.”
Sweeney, 21, told The Post he saw the letter as an attempt to scare him away from sharing public data. The accounts offer only an incomplete sketch of which cities Swift might currently be in, similar to the public schedules for her concerts or any NFL games she might attend, he said. And the letters, he added, were sent to him at a time when she faced criticism over her flights’ environmental impact.
“This information is already out there,” he said. “Her team thinks they can control the world.”
Private-jet flights are routinely criticized for their “disproportionately high” impact on climate change, and Sweeney’s accounts have often been used to name and shame their most famous passengers. In 2022, the accounts were cited in an analysis that estimated Swift was the “biggest celebrity [carbon dioxide] polluter” of the year.
Her publicist told The Post then that the analysis was flawed because her jet was often loaned out to other people. Paine told The Post on Monday that Swift bought more than double the “carbon credits” needed to offset her travel before her recent tour kicked off.
Around the time of the December letter, Facebook and Instagram disabled the accounts Sweeney had created to track Swift’s air travel, saying they broke the platforms’ privacy rules, he said. He began posting those updates onto accounts on Facebook and Instagram that he uses to log the travel of planes used by a range of stars, called Celeb Jets. Then, last month, Morrone sent a second letter saying his posts about Swift’s aircraft constituted “harassing conduct.”
The letters included the names of three other Venable attorneys experienced in litigation, including one who says on LinkedIn that she is the founding member of the firm’s “Digital Crisis Planning & Response client solution” and helps “high-profile individuals” manage crises of varying magnitude, such as “celebrity disgrace events.”
Morrone did not respond to requests for comment. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, also did not respond.
Planes in the sky regularly broadcast their locations via transponders so air traffic controllers and other pilots can see where they’re going. Anyone on the ground can pick up those signals using a cheap device, known as an ADS-B receiver, that is widely sold online.
The FAA allows plane owners to request their flights be hidden in the federal data that undergirds popular consumer flight-tracking websites, such as FlightAware. Swift’s jet appears to be blocked through such a request.
But many aviation hobbyists feed their raw data into independent websites, such as ADS-B Exchange, that those FAA requests do not cover. Criminal investigators, journalists and researchers have used those sites to look up historical flight paths or see who’s flying overhead.
Swift, Time magazine’s 2023 “person of the year,” made history Sunday as the only musician to win four best-album Grammy Awards, and her every movement is closely watched by paparazzi and superfans. Her “Eras Tour” last year was credited with boosting the local economies of every city she stopped in; one study cited by The Post estimated that “Swifties” spent about $93 million per show.
Her travel plans have drawn increased attention in recent weeks as she’s flown to watch her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, play for the Kansas City Chiefs, including from conservatives who have seized on the trips to criticize her.
They have also become a key point of interest for her fans, especially because her upcoming concert in Tokyo is just hours before Kelce’s scheduled Super Bowl appearance on Sunday in Las Vegas. Even Japan’s embassy in Washington recognized the public’s interest, posting on X last week, “Despite the 12-hour flight and 17-hour time difference, the Embassy can confidently Speak Now to say that … she should comfortably arrive” on time.
Sweeney’s accounts have in recent months tracked two jets that were owned by Nashville-based companies and registered to be operated by a Swift company called Firefly Entertainment, according to FAA documents. They do not track who travels on the planes or any other chartered flights.
Swift’s spokeswoman told The Post that “there is only one plane.” One of the planes previously tracked by Sweeney’s accounts, a Dassault Falcon 900, was marked in FAA records last week as being transferred to a real estate company. Each jet sells for about $25 million, according to brokerage estimates cited last month by The Post.
After X banned him and his accounts in December 2022, Sweeney opened new Facebook and Instagram accounts for Swift, former president Donald Trump, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reality star Kim Kardashian and Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg, among others. All of those accounts except for Swift’s remain online — including the accounts for Zuckerberg, who runs both sites. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Sweeney continues to post Swift jet updates to other platforms, including Bluesky, Mastodon and Telegram. To abide by X’s rule against real-time location tracking, he also created accounts that post Musk and Swift’s flight updates with a 24-hour delay.
The December letter from Swift’s attorney states that Sweeney’s actions are “in violation of several state laws” but does not specify them. The letter does, however, cite nine anonymous Instagram comments saying the account is “scary,” “pathetic,” “weird,” invasive” and “dangerous” “stalker behavior.”
The letter says Sweeney is “notorious for disregarding the personal safety of others in exchange for public attention and/or requests for financial gain” and cites a message he sent to Musk in 2021, during which he countered Musk’s $5,000 offer to delete the Musk-jet account with a suggestion of $50,000, as first reported by the now-defunct tech blog Protocol. Sweeney said no money was ever exchanged.
After receiving the letters, Sweeney said he asked for help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, which sent his request to a list of attorneys. James Slater, a Florida lawyer who specializes in First Amendment and internet speech issues, responded on Sweeney’s behalf to the Venable letter.
Slater wrote that Morrone had not identified any legal claim, that the jet information posed “no threat” to Swift’s safety, and that Sweeney’s account had “engaged in protected speech that does not violate any of Ms. Swift’s legal rights,” according to a copy reviewed by The Post. Slater said he has yet to receive a response.
In an interview, Slater said he thought the Swift attorney’s letters were “hyperbolic and unfounded” and sent in hopes that Sweeney would “just delete everything and do what they said.”
“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,” he said. “This is their means to try to quash a PR issue and bully my client to have the bad coverage die down.”