Senate Passes Bill Protecting International Free Speech

July 19, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In a welcome step for free speech, the Senate today passed a bill that will prevent litigants from using foreign defamation laws to restrict the free speech rights of Americans inside the U.S.

The bill, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act or SPEECH Act, addresses the phenomenon called “libel tourism” which allows a foreign plaintiff to sue an American author or publisher in countries that have free speech protections that do not match those afforded under the First Amendment. A party seeking libel damages may bring a claim in any jurisdiction where the allegedly libelous communication was published and then enforce the judgment inside the U.S. With the ease of electronic communications, publications by American authors are now routinely seen outside the U.S. This bill would bar enforcement of such judgments in the U.S. unless the facts would have warranted a similar judgment under our First Amendment standards.

A different form of the bill was passed by the House in June and the House and Senate will now work to resolve the differences between the two.

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, American Civil Liberties Union Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel:

“By passing this bill, Congress has made it clear that free speech restrictions in foreign countries should not chill or restrict speech rights of Americans at home. Our cherished First Amendment rights are bedrock principles of our democracy and should be protected fiercely within our borders. Passage of the SPEECH Act will make sure freedom of expression will be protected overseas. We encourage the House and Senate to work swiftly to adopt a final version of the bill to send to President Obama for signature.”

To read the ACLU’s letter supporting the SPEECH Act, go to:

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