California Court Upholds Berkeley Cellphone Warning

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A California court has upheld a law that forces retailers to warn customers about the potential health risks of cellphones. 

On Friday, a Ninth Circuit panel of judges ruled in favor of a Berkeley, California law which requires retailers to display warnings about the possibility of health risks from cellphones. The 2 to 1 decision rejects a legal challenge from the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), a wireless industry trade group who challenged Berkeley’s so-called “Right To Know” ordinance in June 2015. The group claimed the law violates the First Amendment by forcing retailers to spread a message that they say is misleading.

Circuit Judge William Fletcher disagreed, writing that because Berkeley’s cellphone warning is “purely factual” and is offering protection of public safety, it does not violate the First Amendment.

“Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than to alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and to direct consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure,” Fletcher wrote. “Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it.”

Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland was the dissenting vote. Judge Friedland says the law promotes a “misleading” message that  “carrying a cellphone in one’s pocket is unsafe.”

The Berkeley ordinance informs cell phone users that, “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 [radio frequency] radiation.”  The ordinance also warns that the risk is higher in children. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen originally put a halt to the Berkeley law in September 2015 because of one line of text that was deemed unscientific. The language of the ordinance was later changed and then approved.

The CTIA filed their challenge shortly after, stating that the use of the word “radiation” was “fraught with negative associations” and would cause economic losses. Judge Fletcher Circuit Judge Morgan Christen found that the organization failed to provided proof that the ordinance would result in fewer cellphone sales.

Judge Friedland, on the other hand, said the ordinance was obviously designed to send a message: “carrying a phone ‘in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra’ is not safe.”However, she said, “That implication is a problem for Berkeley because it has not offered any evidence that carrying a cellphone in a pocket is in fact unsafe.”

Friedland skepticism in the possible dangers associated with cellphone use has been repeated by CNN and others. To be clear, there are studies which have found some association with possible negative health affects. As Digital Trends notes, “studies in both Australia and India have found that men who use their cell phones most frequently (and keep them in their pants pocket) had lower sperm counts than those who used cell phones less often. Other studies have also suggested a link between radiation exposure from cell phone usage and certain types of brain cancer.”

There are also studies which have concluded there is no risk of cancer or other illnesses from the radiation released by cell phones. An 18-month study from Denmark compared cancer rates in 360,000 cell phone users to adults without cellphone subscriptions and found no connection to brain or spinal cord tumors. Still, many health advocates are cautious about the growing use of cell phones and a lack of studies.

“If industry does not want to advise people about the fact that phones are not tested next to the body, then they should get the FCC to change its requirements for radiation testing. They cannot do this because, if phones were tested next to the body, they would be found to emit too much radiation to pass current standards,”  Dr. Robert Morris, Environmental Health Trust’s Senior Medical Advisor, stated.

Wherever you fall in this discussion, it seems that City of Berkeley is not the only institution warning people about potential dangers related to the technology. As Activist Post reported, the Athens Medical Association of Athens, Greece, held a conference on April 1st regarding “Non-Ionizing Radiation and Its Effects on Human Health.”  The conference featured lectures and concluded with 16 recommendations to reduce exposures and human health adverse effects. The recommendations include, “Restrict cell phone use when children or pregnant women are near,” and “Keep mobile phones away from your body.”

What are your thoughts? Is the Berkeley ordinance another example of the State attempting to tell business owners how to run their business? Is there any danger to cell phone use? And if so, is there a cover-up happening? Leave your thoughts below.