The Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee ad­vanced le­gis­la­tion Wed­nes­day aimed at pro­tect­ing the right of con­sumers to leave neg­at­ive on­line re­views about busi­nesses.

The Con­sumer Re­view Free­dom Act, which passed the pan­el in a voice vote, would bar the use of con­trac­tu­al gag clauses that pro­hib­it con­sumers from say­ing any­thing dis­par­aging about the busi­ness, in­clud­ing in an on­line re­view.

Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Thune, a South Dakota Re­pub­lic­an who sponsored the bill, ar­gued that such clauses “stifle free and hon­est speech” and “de­crease con­sumer power.”

At a hear­ing on the is­sue earli­er this month, Jen­nifer Palmer, an Ore­gon wo­man, test­i­fied that her hus­band had bought Christ­mas gifts from an on­line re­tail­er called KlearGear. After the gifts nev­er ar­rived and the com­pany didn’t re­spond to their com­plaints, Palmer left a crit­ic­al re­view of the com­pany on Ripof­fRe­port.com.

More than three years later, KlearGear con­tac­ted her, claim­ing she was in vi­ol­a­tion of a non-dis­par­age­ment clause in the com­pany’s terms of use and that she owed $3,500 un­less she re­moved the re­view. But Ripof­fRe­port.com doesn’t al­low con­sumers to re­move their re­views, and KlearGear re­por­ted the $3,500 as an un­paid debt to col­lec­tion agen­cies, Palmer test­i­fied.

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