CTIA sues SF over cell phone radiation law

Lobbying arm hopes to block San Francisco ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to display cell phone radiation information.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
2 min read

The wireless industry's lobbying arm has stepped up its attack on a recent San Francisco ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to display a handset's specific absorption rate, or SAR.

Just three weeks after it said it would no longer hold its autumn trade show in the city, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) on Friday filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the legislation.

The suit (PDF), filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, accuses the city of unlawfully interfering with the "FCC's exclusive, congressionally derived authority" of radio frequency emissions from cell phones and other wireless devices. If not enjoined, the ordinance will "cause irreparable harm to plaintiff, its members, and the public," the lawsuit says.

Matt Dorsey, press secretary for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said his office has not had time to fully read the suit, but that the ordinance only gives consumers easier access to information that's already available in user manuals and on manufacturer and carrier Web sites. "The cell phone lobby is arguing that improving access to information is somehow illegal," Doresy said. "We think that's a novel legal concept."

In a statement, John Walls, CTIA's vice president of public affairs, said the law also misleads consumers by creating the false impression that the Federal Communication Commission's current standards (1.6 watts per kilogram) are insufficient. "The FCC has stated that any cell phone that complies with the standard is safe," Walls said. "Displaying a phone's SAR value at the point-of-sale suggests to the consumer that there is a meaningful safety distinction between FCC-compliant devices with different SAR levels."

CTIA has long argued that cell phone use does not hold any danger. Despite years of research, however, there is still no scientific consensus that cell phone radio frequency is or is not harmful. Even the long-awaited Interphone study, which the cell phone industry partially funded, was largely inconclusive. The study came out in May.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted the legislation (PDF) on June 15 due to concern over the "potential harm of long-term exposure to radiation emitted" from some cell phones. In addition to mandating that cell phone retailers post a list of the actual and maximum SAR for each phone sold, it also guarantees that customers have access to educational materials about cell phone radiation when making purchasing decisions.

For more on cell phone radiation and steps you can take to minimize exposure, check out CNET's cell phone radiation charts and my recent On Call column.