CTIA sues to block Berkeley's cell phone radiation warning law

CTIA is suing the city of Berkeley, Calif., over an ordinance that passed there last month that would require retailers selling cell phones to post a notice about safety and health concerns from radiofrequency radiation emitted by phones. 

CTIA successfully fought against a similar measure in San Francisco. In 2012, a federal appeals court blocked San Francisco from enforcing that ordinance. CTIA has long argued that there is no evidence showing cell phone radiation is harmful.  

The warnings in the Berkeley measure would not explicitly reference any harm that might come to consumers, but would note that the federal government sets guidelines on exposure, and that those levels can be exceeded if a person carries their phone close to their body while it is connected to a Wi-Fi network, according to The Hill.

"To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines," the notice states. "If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely." 

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, comes after the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed the law on May 26. The law is due to take effect after 30 days, according to IDG News Service.

CTIA said that the ordinance would be misleading and give off an impression of harm, and would also violate retailers' First Amendment rights by forcing them to distribute information they might disagree with.  

In a statement, the wireless industry's trade group noted that the FCC "stated and confirmed its confidence that the federal government's conservative health and safety standards for cell phones fully protect public health. Leading global health organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration all concurred that wireless devices are not a public health risk."

Berkeley declined to comment on pending litigation, according to IDG.

The FCC notes that its guidelines and rules regarding RF exposure "are based upon standards developed by IEEE and NCRP and input from other federal agencies," such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"These guidelines specify exposure limits for hand-held wireless devices in terms of the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)," according to the FCC. "The SAR is a measure of the rate that RF energy is absorbed by the body. For exposure to RF energy from wireless devices, the allowable FCC SAR limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg), as averaged over one gram of tissue."

"All wireless devices sold in the U.S. go through a formal FCC approval process to ensure that they do not exceed the maximum allowable SAR level when operating at the device's highest possible power level," the FCC notes. "If the FCC learns that a device does not confirm with the test report upon which FCC approval is based--in essence, if the device in stores is not the device the FCC approved--the FCC can withdraw its approval and pursue enforcement action against the appropriate party."

According to the FCC, data compiled by the FDA, the World Health Organization and other organizations shows that "to date, the weight of scientific evidence has not effectively linked exposure to radio frequency energy from mobile devices with any known health problems."

For more:
- see this CTIA release
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this The Hill article
- see this Re/code article

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