Wireless carriers sued to block an ordinance mandating retailers outline the potential health risks of mobile phones, as intensifying debate over handset safety informs government policies.
The CTIA, a wireless industry group representing AT&T and Verizon among others, filed a lawsuit to prevent San Francisco’s “Right to Know” ordinance from taking effect on October 25. A hearing on the suit is set for October 20.
The cell phone disclosure law, the first of its kind in the U.S., requires retailers to display large, informational posters and hand out fact sheets explaining the ongoing debate on whether cell phone radiation causes cancer.
The CTIA disagrees with the ordinance, calling it “inaccurate, misleading, controversial, unnecessarily alarmist,” saying it revokes carriers’ First Amendment right to free speech.
On the other side, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said CTIA is abusing its free speech privileges by naming them in this lawsuit.
“I am disappointed that the wireless industry is so bent on quashing the debate about the health effects of cell phone radiation,” he said.
Herrera references the ongoing debate over whether cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic,” as the World Health Organization suggested on July 1. Four days later, however, another group of experts from the U.S. and Europe found no link between mobile phone use and brain tumors.
The debate on this issue continues, as cell phone companies and wireless carriers maintain their products are safe while activists and now government policymakers are beginning to question that assumption.
In San Francisco’s case, the debate is no longer theoretical, as the CTIA has been battling the “Right to Know” ordinance since its inception last year. The organization sued to block the law and was successful in tabling the resolution in May, prompting San Francisco officials to scale down their original proposal before voting on it again in July.
The Supreme Court also involved itself in this debate, ultimately siding with cell phone companies to overturn a lawsuit accusing their devices of causing brain cancer.
The FCC’s current regulations approve all phones on the market, although handsets must not exceed a maximum specific absorption rate, or SAR, of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue. Most cell phone makers put this information in their owners’ manuals, although it is often buried deep in fine print.
The debate on cell phone safety is unlikely to stop anytime soon, but may intensify as governments like San Francisco’s begin to enact legislation informed by the possible health implications of cell phones. In the meantime, government regulators in San Francisco are battling wireless companies and handset makers until conclusive scientific evidence closes the matter one way or another.