The legal battle over whether stores selling cellphones in San Francisco must disclose devices’ possible health risks comes to a decisive moment Thursday when The City faces off against the wireless industry in an appeals court.
The Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom approved legislation in July 2010 that would have mandated warnings for people buying cellphones about possible health risks such as cancer and how to use devices more safely, such as by wearing a headset.
The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a trade group representing cellphone companies, sued The City to overturn the law, arguing it is pre-empted by federal law and violates the industry’s First Amendment rights.
Should The City prevail, it could set a legal precedent and likely prompt other local governments to regulate the sale of cellphones by requiring similar disclosures.
Cellphone usage and potential health impacts have long been debated. The devices are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, which sets the safe level of radio frequency a device can emit.
In an effort to bolster The City’s position in the legal fight, the City Attorney’s Office on Tuesday highlighted the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that calls into question the FCC’s oversight of cellphones, suggesting the federal agency has not kept up with technology advancements or new research.
“The FCC energy exposure limit may not reflect the latest research, and testing requirements may not identify maximum exposure in all possible usage conditions,” the report said.
The CTIA said in a response that groups such as the FCC or the World Health Organization have found “scientific research has not established that wireless phone use causes adverse health effects.”
“The FCC has been vigilant in its oversight in this area and has set safety standards to make sure that radio frequency fields from wireless phones remain at what it has determined are safe levels,” the CTIA statement said.
In a statement, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, “Incredibly, the cellphone lobby is arguing that they have a First Amendment right to keep their own customers in the dark until there is absolute scientific proof that their products are dangerous to human health.”
If the industry loses the legal battle in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it will likely request the U.S. Supreme Court review the ruling.