SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.--Melodramatic cell phone safety risk warnings are a violation of the First Amendment, ruled U.S. District Judge William Alsup as he overturned most of a San Francisco ordinance mandating such warnings.
Judge Alsup said that the ordinance from San Francisco’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee misrepresented the risks of mobile phone use.
"The overall impression left is that cell phones are dangerous and that they have somehow escaped the regulatory process," he wrote in his judgment adding, "That impression is untrue and misleading, for all of the cell phones sold in the United States must comply with safety limits set by the FCC."
The city of San Francisco had been attempting to pass legislation requiring phone retailers not only to hand out "fact sheets" to customers detailing possible health risks associated with mobile phone use, but also to put up large warning posters. The city wanted those posters to state in bold text: "studies continue to assess potential health effects of mobile phone use."
A previous draft of the ordinance –which was also rejected—had required retailers to warn customers of the risks of cancer due to cell phone use. The World Health Organization recently admitted, however, that there was not enough evidence to support such a risk.
Giving customers a fact sheet would be acceptable said Judge Alsup, though he asked that the leaflets be rephrased so as not to give customers the wrong impression that phones were dangerous.
The ordinance is the brainchild of Supervisor John Avalos, who has been pushing for the law to go through since mid-2010. Avalos believes consumers should be told the specific absorption rate of all phones sold in any particular store, along with facts on RF energy and tips to limit one’s exposure to it.
Though this has delighted environmentalists across the country, it has also deeply angered the wireless industry, specifically the CTIA Wireless Association lobby, which has sued San Francisco on the grounds that the ordinance is not constitutional and misleading.
Judge Alsup has now put the ordinance on hold until Nov. 30, giving San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera time to appeal. The judge ruled, however, that should San Francisco refuse to make changes to the wording of its warning pamphlets, the entire ordinance will be thrown out of court.