An overreaching Arizona prosecutor jails a pair of newsmen.

Media criticism.
Oct. 19 2007 5:53 PM

The Subpoena Weenie

An overreaching Arizona prosecutor jails a pair of newsmen.

New Times founders Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey. Click image to expand.
New Times founders Jim Larkin (left) and Michael Lacey (right)

An Arizona grand jury wants information about me. Not just a little, but a lot.

Because I have visited the PhoenixNew Times Web site, the grand jury wants to know the IP address of my computer. It wants to know what type of browser and operating system I use. It wants to know what Web pages I visited before going to Phoenix New Times and the Web pages I visited after going there. It wants to know the date and time of my visits.

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The grand jury also wants the information contained in the cookie that Phoenix New Times places on my hard disk when I visit the site—this cookie contains a host of data about my Web browsing. Because it's usually a simple matter to deduce the name of a home Web user by his IP address, anybody who gathers all of this data will be able to assemble a many-faceted—and intrusive—portrait of me.

But I'm not the only person in whom the grand jury, convened in Maricopa County (of which Phoenix is the county seat), has interest. It wants this data about everybody who has browsed the New Times site since Jan. 1, 2004.

The reason I know so much about the grand jury's demands—which are supposed to be secret—is because of the cover story Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey wrote this week for New Times, in which they disclose the grand jury subpoena the newspaper recently received.

Larkin and Lacey aren't just a couple of New Times staff writers. They're the two top executives of Village Voice Media, the alt-weekly chain that owns New Times. They're also my former bosses. I worked for them in 1995 and 1996 as editor of SF Weekly. And they're friends.

The subpoena informs its recipients in bold, all-capital letters that "DISCLOSURE OF ANY MATTER ATTENDING A GRAND JURY PROCEEDING, INCLUDING DISCLOSURE OF YOUR RECEIPT OF OR COMPLIANCE WITH THIS SUBPOENA, IS A CRIME." In publishing the subpoena, Larkin and Lacey dared the county to do something about it, and the county immediately obliged. Maricopa County sheriff's deputies came to their homes last night, arrested them, and threw them in jail.

I wish I could report that Larkin and Lacey were still in jail or bound for the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. A pair more in need of correction you'll never meet. Alas, both were sprung after a few hours in stir.

What interests the grand jury in New Times readers? Here's the short form: Over the past 14 years, New Times has investigated Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in colonoscopic detail. The landing page for New Times' collected works on Sheriff Joe (as he's known) accuses him of "serious abuses of power."

The page continues, "During his tenure, inmates have died needlessly in his jails, and his office has engaged in reckless police operations and Gestapo-like activities against rivals. In Arpaio's world, such callous disregard for human rights only enhances his reputation as the 'toughest sheriff in America.' "