ITIF Commends Introduction of New Legislation to Protect Online Free Speech

May 13, 2015

WASHINGTON (May 13, 2015) –Following the introduction of the SPEAK FREE Act of 2015 by Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Trent Franks (R-AZ), Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), releases the following statement:

ITIF commends Representatives Farenthold, Eshoo, Issa, and Franks for introducing this important piece of legislation which will protect consumers from frivolous lawsuits intended to silence legit online speech, such as complaints about products or services.

Imagine that a patient has endured a terrible visit to the dentist. Disturbed by the ordeal, she goes online and posts a review, providing a factual account of her experience as a warning to future patients. Soon after, the patient receives a letter from the dentist’s lawyer threatening a lawsuit if she does not immediately take down the post. Scared that she may have done something wrong, and worried about the cost of going to court, the patient quickly deletes her review. Not only has this patient had her voice unfairly silenced, but many potential patients will not be able to benefit from her experience to choose a better dentist.

These types of suits, called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, are designed to censor public speech by invoking the court system to intimidate critics and prevent bad publicity. Faced with the time and attorney’s fees involved in defending against such a lawsuit, the easier path for a defendant often is to retract an unflattering statement about a merchant or service provider, even if the statement is true. And currently, the patchwork of state laws is insufficient to prevent this practice and properly protect online speech.

Given this environment, the SPEAK FREE Act is a necessary policy reform which will create a baseline level of protection for citizens’ rights of petition and free expression. We urge Congress to take up this bill during the current legislative session to properly protect consumers and ensure the continued development of a robust and interactive Internet community.