A depiction of a new Apple patent for an infrared camera that could automatically disable recording during concerts. (Patently Apple)

The SavetheInternet.com coalition, a group of some two million people devoted to a free and open Internet, want to send Steve Jobs an online petition, “Dear Apple, Don’t Shut Down My Phone Camera,” to ask that he reconsider the patent. The patent, which would enable a device’s camera to shut down during a movie or concert, applies to iPhones, the iPod Touch and iPad 2.

In the petition, the coalition argues that the patent is dangerous because of the way smartphones are now used for political expression and community organizing:

That’s why I’m concerned that Apple wants to patent a sensor that would detect when people are using their phone cameras — and give corporations the power to shut them down. ... As we’ve seen in Egypt and elsewhere, the images and videos we take with our phones can be powerful forms of free speech. That’s why governments and businesses that feel threatened by the democratizing nature of mobile devices are doing what they can to control how we use them... If this tool fell into the hands of repressive regimes or malicious corporations, it would give tyrants and companies the power to silence one of the most critical forms of free expression.

Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has long warned that anti-piracy laws might be disastrous for free speech.

But Patently Apple, a blog that covers Apple's intellectual property news, weighs both the positives and negatives of the patent. The sophisticated system, Patently Apple writes, could also “turn your iOS device into a kind of automated tour guide for museums or cityscapes as well as eventually being an auto retail clerk providing customers with price, availability and product information.”

The same consumers that wouldn’t be able to tape their favorite concert could get new information about their favorite piece of art the next time they visit a museum. But is it worth the price?