President Obama today signed the SPEECH Act—a federal "libel tourism" bill—into law, thereby protecting Americans' First Amendment right to free speech without having to worry about being indicted in other countries.
Introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), the bill passed both houses of
"Libel tourists" file libel lawsuits against American writers in countries that do not have our strong free speech protections, and the new law (HR 2765) guards U.S. writers from these frivolous suits against their spoken, printed, and posted words by granting a "a cause of action for declaratory judgment relief against a party who has brought a successful foreign defamation action whose judgment undermines the First Amendment"—and provides for legal fees.
"In signing the SPEECH Act into law, President Obama has established a needed defense of freedom of expression in the United States and for every American who choose to exercise it responsibly,” said Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy, and founder of the movement against libel tourism.
Ehrenefeld had personal experience with libel tourism when she was sued in the U.K. by an al-Qaeda funder after she published a book, In Funding Evil, on the subject. She lost the case despite a lack of jurisdiction, but New York State Legislature quickly passed "Rachel's Law," in April 2008, enabling the New York courts to take jurisdiction over foreign libel plaintiffs who sue New York authors and publishers abroad. Seven states have followed New York's lead since then, and now, every American is protected under the SPEECH law.
As publishing has developed a more prominent presence on the Internet and mobile platforms, this new law is timely in its enforcement of the U.S. Constitution and American mores.