Understanding the Issues: CISPA, Data Caps and YOU

/ Apr 24, 2013


Being on the cutting edge isn’t just about following the latest memes or downloading the newest apps — there are several real-world problems raising their heads for creators and business-folk alike within the web video industry. Right now, two major issues are arising that could affect the digital landscape – CISPA and Data Caps; this is the time to be conscious of what’s coming.


Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), the latest round of “cybersecurity” legislation to concern Internet freedom advocates.

What CISPA does, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation activism director Rainey Reitman, is create a loophole in privacy law that allows companies to transmit the data of its users to government organizations — including military organizations — without those users knowing.

How does CISPA potentially affect the digital space? According to Reitman, if passed the legislation could lead to a decay in “user trust.” If people aren’t sure what might happen to their data, they may become hesitant in engaging with online culture.

Imagine a world where users weren’t willing to log into sites like YouTube, for fear that information on who they were and what they were watching could be sent to the NSA at any time, without their knowledge. That’s less user engagement, and fewer eyeballs, and it’s good news for absolutely no one in the web video industry.

The claim is that this legislation will address problems with the U.S.’s network security. But “it doesn’t do anything about real practical things that the government could do to improve network security,” Reitman said via phone. “It literally just creates a new exception to privacy law so that data can flow from private companies to the government.”

Reitman was relatively confident that the current iteration of CISPA was unlikely to pass — even if it passes the Senate, the Obama Administration has promised to veto. But, Reitman said, “I think Congress is extremely motivated to pass some sort of cybersecurity legislation. The issue is not going to go away.”

Data Caps

While CISPA is an issue of legislation, data caps are an issue of not enough legislation. The term refers to the practice of ISPs limiting the data that users consume, and charging extra when those data caps are exceeded.

Data caps are a relatively new invention — before they became common practice for companies like AT&T and Comcast, consumers were charged extra not for data used, but for the speed of their connections. And the way consumers deal with data caps is potentially a huge issue for online video creators.

“Data caps are a threat to their ability to grow their business,” Michael Weinberg of the organization Public Knowledge said in a phone interview, “because data caps introduce this scarcity mindset into people — it makes them less inclined to try something new or expand something they’re already doing.” A consumer under a data cap plan may be less likely to try a new show, if it costs them data they’d want to use for something else.

What can be done? Weinberg emphasized that the online video community is not powerless in this situation.

First steps by Public Knowledge include an open letter entitled “Letter From The Online Video Community to the Senate Re: Data Caps”, which addresses two issues: telling Congress that the online video industry is just that — a vibrant, growing industry — and also making clear to elected officials that said industry is threatened by data caps.

Legislation is also key — Senator Ron Wyden introduced a data cap bill at the end of the last session of Congress, and Weinberg expects that a new bill will be entered into this new contest somewhat soon. As soon as that happens, the plan is to rally the online creator community around that bill, in the hopes of it passing. “It’s a winnable fight,” he said.

For nothing is hopeless: the important thing with both these issues is to be aware not only of their progress, but aware of the potential for impact on the industry.

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