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Cell Phone Ordinance Challenged in Court

A court case this week challenges a Berkeley ordinance requiring retailers to inform customers of cell phones’ recommended distance from the body. Credit: d3damon/iStock
A court case this week challenges a Berkeley ordinance requiring retailers to inform customers of cell phones’ recommended distance from the body. Credit: d3damon/iStock
August 20, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. - The City of Berkeley is fighting the wireless industry's trade group in federal court on Thursday. The city is defending an ordinance that would require cell phone retailers to post a sign warning people who carry a phone close to the body may exceed federal guidelines on exposure to radio frequency radiation and children are more at risk.

City council member Max Anderson says most people don't know that the manuals recommend you keep the phone as much as an inch from the body.

"It's a public-education campaign," says Anderson. "To try to stimulate some interest on the part of the public to view these instruments as potentially harmful if not used properly."

In the lawsuit, the trade group, called CTIA-The Wireless Association, quotes the Federal Communications Commission, which found "there is no scientific evidence that proves wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other problems, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss."

CTIA also argues the signs would be a violation of retailers' First Amendment rights.

But Lloyd Morgan, a senior researcher with the Environmental Health Trust in Berkeley, says the FCC is biased when it maintains cell phones are safe.

"The FCC is controlled by the cell phone industry," says Morgan. "The very person in charge of the FCC was in fact the founding president of the CTIA. He worked for industry in his entire career as a lobbyist."

Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, notes the ordinance doesn't address health risks.

"We don't know how great the risk may be but there's enough data to suggest there is a risk," says Louis. "All Berkeley is doing is notifying people there is such a possibility. That's all."

Two years ago the San Francisco Board of Supervisors withdrew a similar ordinance after a lawsuit by the CTIA. However that ordinance placed more emphasis on the health risks of cell phones, whereas Berkeley's ordinance was written specifically solely to expand disclosure to consumers.

Morgan expects the current case to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, regardless of who wins this round.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA