The US Senate is moving closer to passing legislation that would make it harder for plaintiffs to sue Americans in overseas jurisdictions, such as Britain, where laws governing free speech are weaker.

Legislation to crack down on the rise of "libel tourism" has passed through a key Senate committee and has cross-party support in Congress. The measure, known as the Speech Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), will now progress to a full Senate hearing.

A handful of countries, notably Britain, Australia, Brazil and Singapore, have stricter libel laws than the US, leading to cases where plaintiffs search for the jurisdiction most likely to be sympathetic to their case. Some human rights campaigners and legal experts say the practice is used by the powerful to stifle dissent and criticism. The growth of publishing on the internet has raised fears that libel tourism will grow rapidly.

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