The Berkeley Cell Phone “Right to Know” Ordinance
In May 2015, the City of Berkeley unanimously passed an ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to provide the following safety notice to their customers.
The Berkeley city ordinance requires sellers to inform customers that keeping a device in a pocket or bra could lead to radiation exposure that exceeds federal guidelines. For years, cell-phone manufacturers have vigorously resisted state and local government attempts to require warning signs about radiation exposure even though their own user manuals advise caution about carrying or holding the phone close to your body while it’s transmitting. These warnings are buried deep in the tiny print. For example:
“Use hands-free operation if it is available and keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.59 inches (15 mm) from your body (including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of teenagers) when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”
Read all of the fine print warnings for various cell phones at EHT’s ShowTheFinePrint.org site
The Berkeley ordinance came about after years of advocacy and is a historic win for consumers Right To Know.
Initially the ordinance stated “This potential risk is greater for children,” but that phrase was struck after the legal challenges. In September 2015, the Federal Court required the City to strike the following 7 words from the 82-word safety warning: “This potential risk is greater for children.” The Judge ruled that although this sentence may be factual, it can be argued that it is controversial because the FCC does not acknowledge that children’s exposure to cell phone radiation is greater than adults. The City will vote on October 6th on that one sentence modification.
Please read about the history of the ordinance, see court documents and news stories after this video of the hearings after the CTIA filed a lawsuit against the City.
2010: by Max Anderson, City Council Member, following hearings with Prof. Stanton Glantz UCSF and Joel Moskowitz PhD, UC Berkeley, where EHT discussed Disconnect–the truth about Cell Phone Radiation
Ordinance Passed Unanimously
May 12, 2015: Berkeley Adopts the Cell Phone “Right to Know” Ordinance on Unanimous Vote of 9-0.
CTIA Files Lawsuit
Berkeley Cell Phone Right To Know Oral Arguments 9/2016 : Theodore Olson and Lawrence Lessig
June 8, 2015: The CTIA—The Wireless Association filed a lawsuit arguing that such warnings violate the manufacturers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to state something they do not believe.
July 6, 2015: The City of Berkeley filed its response to the CTIA’s challenge.
July 13, 2015: the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the Court for the right to file a “friend of the court” brief opposing the CTIA, arguing that “Mandatory disclosure of environmental and health risks is crucial to protecting the public’s safety and individuals’ autonomy.”
July 20, 2015: The CTIA filed for a preliminary injunction that would block implementation of the ordinance.
August 20, 2015: the U.S. District Court in San Francisco held a hearing on the CTIA’s motion. The CTIA was represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who has also represented the tobacco industry on related issues, and the City of Berkeley was represented by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig pro bono.
September 21, 2015: Federal District Court Judge Edward Chen denied the CTIA’s request for a preliminary injunction and upheld the City of Berkeley’s ordinance. However, the sentence on children was deleted from the safety notification.
Read this Court Ruling here.
January 27, 2015: Judge Chen lifted the ban on the Berkeley cell phone ordinance. The city is now allowed to enforce the amended cell phone law. In his ruling, the judge rejected the CTIA’s argument that the city’s mandated disclosure is controversial and therefore bound by a stricter constitutional analysis. According to the ruling, “CTIA’s beef should be with the FCC … If CTIA believes that the safety margin is too generous because there is no real safety concern at that level, it should take that matter up with the FCC administratively.”
September 13, 2016: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held a hearing to consider whether to overturn the district court’s decision that denied the CTIA’s request for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of Berkeley’s cellphone ordinance until the case was decided. Watch the proceedings here.
- Watch videos of testimony to the Berkeley City Council on EHT’s Youtube channel here.
- Read the Briefing prepared for the City by Lawrence Lessig, with support from the California Brain Tumor Association and Voices Against Brain Cancer.
- Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has a blog about the case.
- A case management conference has been scheduled for October 1, 2015 in the Federal District Court.
- Federal District Court ruling on CTIA request for a preliminary injunction (September 21, 2015): View here
- The Berkeley Cell Phone “Right To Know” ordinance
- The CTIA lawsuit
- The court filings for the lawsuit, “CTIA – The Wireless Association v. City of Berkeley et al.” (Case Number 3:150-cv-02529), are available at Law 360.
- 1/28/2016 Courthouse News Service: Judge Lets Berkeley Warn About Cellphones
- April 21, 2017 Court filing on Ordinance being upheld by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The Ordinance has been years in the making and scientists and citizens have been advocating for years on the issue of cell phone radiation. Please see below some documents from the City Council over the years.
- December 14, 2010 Recommendation by City to Direct the City Manager to draft an ordinance (modeled after the San Francisco ordinance) requiring SAR disclosure for all cell phones available for sale or lease in the City of Berkeley
- Berkeley City Work session details 11/08/2011 on ordinance
- Dr. Moskowitz April 7, 2011 Written Testimony to Council “Research on the Effects of Cell Phone Radiation on Human Sperm“
- Dr. Moskowitz April 28, 2010 written testimony Government must inform us of cell phone risk
- 2011 Berkeley City Manager recommendation for City to adopt resolution.
- Report prepared by Fred Schlachter, Ph.D March 30, 2011 on how cell phone labeling would contribute to fear
- Guidelines for Cell Phone Use Documents provided by Environmental Health Trust November 2011 Worksession
For additional coverage of this ordinance please go to Dr. Moskowitz’s Webpage on the Berkeley cell phone ordinance
According to the 9/21/2015 Federal District Court Ruling the purpose behind the Berkeley Ordinance is as follows:
A. Requirements for the testing of cell phones were established by the federal government [i.e., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)] in 1996.
B. These requirements established “Specific Absorption Rates” (SAR).
C. The protocols for testing the SAR for cell phones carried on a person’s body assumed that they would be carried a small distance away from the body, e.g., in a holster or belt clip, which was the common practice at that time. Testing of cell phones under these protocols has generally been conducted based on an assumed separation of 10-15 millimeters.
D. To protect the safety of their consumers, manufacturers recommend that their cell phones be carried away from the body, or be used in conjunction with hands-free devices.
E. Consumers are not generally aware of these safety recommendations.
F. Currently, it is much more common for cell phones to be carried in pockets or other locations rather than holsters or belt clips, resulting in much smaller separation distances than the safety recommendations specify.
G. Some consumers may change their behavior to better protect themselves and their children if they are aware of these safety recommendations.
H. While the disclosures and warnings that accompany cell phones generally advise consumers not to wear them against their bodies, e.g., not in pockets, waistbands, etc., these disclosures and warnings are often buried in fine print, are not written in easily understood language, or are accessible only by looking for the information inside on-screen menus on the device itself.
I. The purpose of this Chapter is to assure that consumers have the information they need to make their own choices about the extent and nature of their exposure to radiofrequency radiation.
S.F. woman’s crusade against cell-phone industry
San Fransisco Chronicle, 25th September 2015
Judge suggests he may side with most of Berkeley’s cell phone law
Bob Egelko, SF Gate, Aug 20, 2015 (This article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 21, 2015.)
Cell Phone Radiation Warning Challenged in Court
Jessica Aguirre, NBC Bay Area, Aug 20, 2015
Hearing on Berkeley cellphone law leans in city’s favor
Lance Knobel, Berkeleyside, Aug 21, 2015
Cell phones radiation is making headlines again with Berkeley’s Right to Know ordinance
By Lulu Chang, Digital Trends, August 1, 2015
For links to other media coverage about the ordinance see Dr. Moskowitz’s webpage here.