Court upholds city’s right to warn consumers about phone radiation

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Berkeley’s right to warn consumers about cell phone radiation has been upheld in court.


Angela Lang/Techhnews

Wireless association CTIA has failed again to get the City of Berkeley to stop warning people that using a cell phone could expose them to radiation. As part of the long-running debate over health concerns in using mobile phones, Berkeley’s “Right to Know” ordinance, which came into effect in 2016, was upheld by a court Tuesday.

Berkeley had been enforcing a city ordinance that required phone retailers to inform prospective buyers that carrying phones in certain ways, like in pants pockets or bras, could cause them to exceed the FCC’s guidelines for radio frequency radiation maximum exposure. CTIA had argued that this violated the First Amendment, blocking retailers’ freedom of speech by requiring them to post “inflammatory” messages.


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The radiation warning message required by the city from phone retailers is: “To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. 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. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”

CTIA sued in June 2015, trying to stop Berkeley through an injunction. In April 2017, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ordinance, finding it was in the public interest and based on FCC information. But in June 2018, the Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court for further review.

After the Supreme Court decision, CTIA said it would continue its fight against “forcing retailers to convey the government’s message.” At the same time, Matthai K. Chakko, Berkeley’s communications director, said the city didn’t think the decision would affect the ordinance.

CTIA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the new decision.

Previously, the CTIA successfully prevented the City of San Francisco from requiring phone radiation messages in 2013 after a three-year battle.

Farimah Faiz Brown, Berkeley”s city attorney, said the city is pleased with the court’s ruling.

“The city has always firmly believed that the ordinance is constitutional and serves the public interest,” she said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon.

First published at 3:05 p.m. PT on July 2.  
Updated at 3:54 p.m. PT: adds comment from Berkeley city attorney

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