Michael Geist is a Canadian we all should be paying attention to, otherwise we risk entering a new internet age with some chilling new rules. In his latest column published in several Eastern newspapers, Geist writes:

Notwithstanding the Internet’s remarkable potential, there are dark clouds on the horizon.  There are some who see a very differing Internet.  Theirs is an Internet with ubiquitous surveillance featuring real-time capabilities to monitor online activities.  It is an Internet that views third party applications such as Vonage’s Voice-over-IP service as parasitic.  It is an Internet in which virtually all content should come at a price, even when that content has been made freely available.  It is an Internet that would seek to cut off subscriber access based on mere allegations of wrongdoing, without due process or oversight from a judge or jury.

He details some of those dark clouds: pending legislation that will require educational institutions to pay millions of dollars in fees for internet access to information that is now freely available, new rules allowing surveillance of internet traffic by police and fears that ISP will shutout new technology such as VoIP, in favour of their own products. Most chilling:

Moreover, those same [Cabinet] ministers are also contemplating a new system that would allow content owners to file a complaint with an ISP if one of their subscribers has allegedly posted infringing content.  Canada’s rules for child pornography still require a court order before content is removed, yet if the Canadian Recording Industry Association and other well-funded interests get their way, the ISP will respond to a mere allegation of copyright infringement by “kicking the subscriber off the system.”

(In December, I sent email to Stephen Owen, my MP, expressing my concerns and asking that he do what he could to ensure the rights of Canadians are respected. I haven’t heard back from him yet.)

The proposed changes to Canada’s copyright laws, and other rules governing technology, haven’t received extensive coverage in mainstream media, partly because they are tough to write about: the process is procedural, which doesn’t lend itself to easy coverage. But the issues are fundamental and involve, in some cases, a restriction of rights we now enjoy. And that makes it vital that ordinary Canadians pay attention, and ensure that their voices are heard.

Geist’s piece is a good starting point. It’s heavily “annotated” with links, and provides a broadbush overview of the threats. Read. Ponder. Spread the word. Write to your MP.

UPDATE: From Michael Geist’s web site this evening:

Today’s article on the government plans for lawful access, extended licensing, etc. has been  leading ed to lots of email from people wanting to do something.

The most obvious place to start is to write to our politicians — they need to hear from people that are concerned about these proposed privacy and copyright reforms.

I suggest writing to your MP (parliamentary website provides an easy lookup), as well as Industry Minister David Emerson and Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla. Email is ok, but print letters are much better as they will generate a response.