Your Questions Answered: The French Cell Phone Data Release “Phonegate”
Your Questions Answered On “PhoneGate” The French Cell Phone
What information did the government of France release?
France released radiation measurements for hundreds of cell phones tested independently by the government of France. When cell phones were tested in positions mimicking an individual holding the phone directly against the body, the radiation levels were so high that most tested phones exceeded European limits, showing radiation levels up to three times higher than the limits!
The vast majority of cell phones tested in body contact positions had radiation measurements that far exceeded European allowable limits. In 2015, testing showed that 64 out of 72 cell phone models tested in direct body contact positions had radiation levels higher than allowable radiation limits. Since 2012, 208 of the 273 phone models tested in direct body contact positions had radiation levels higher than allowable radiation limits. However, when these same phones were tested with a separation distance of 15 mm to 25mm, they were within regulatory limits. In other words, the cell phones only passed radiation tests when they were laboratory tested with a separation distance between the phone and test dummy.
Despite violating the safety limit for radiation exposure to users, all of these phones still pass tests as “compliant” because outdated regulations do not require testing in body contact positions.
The cell phone data released by France is in the form of a spreadsheet with the make, model, and radiation measurements of almost 400 cell phones tested at 0 distance, 5 mm distance, and the distance used by the industry. Read Press Release.
Why wasn’t this information released earlier?
France has been testing cell phones for radiation levels since 2012 but did not publicly release the findings. In 2016, an analysis of their test results was presented in a scientific report of the national French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) called “Radiofrequency Exposure and the Health of Children.” The 2016 report stated, “In 2015, 89 percent of tested cell phones had a SAR greater than the maximum limit value of 2 W/kg and 25 percent had a SAR greater than 4 W/kg.” However, the make and model of the cell phones were not in the report. (Read english translation here.)
Dr. Marc Arazi, a French physician, made an inquiry to see the actual data. He was first denied the information by France’s National Frequencies Agency (ANFR). After a court challenge and months of pressure ANFR posted the information on their website in June 2017. Arazi maintains a blog about the issue.
Note: The 2016 ANSES report stated that current cell phone radiation testing methods need to be re-evaluated and that compliance with the regulatory limits needs to be ensured in all conditions of use, such as when the phone is in contact with the body. The report concluded that children are more vulnerable to radio frequency wireless exposures and recommended children’s exposures to wireless radiation be immediately reduced.
Why is this information important for people who use cell phones?
This data is documented proof that cell phone laboratory test methods in place since 1999 are inadequate. This data provides solid evidence that cell phones are capable of exposing people to radiation at levels that exceed government standards when people use their phones in common ways.
The majority of cell phone owners carry and use their devices in direct contact with their bodies. This includes carrying phones in a bra, tucked next to skin in stretchy pants, and placed in shirt and pants pockets. Teenagers often sleep with phones on their chests or beneath their pillow. Many pregnant women rest phones on their abdomens. All of these common positions result in the phone being in direct contact with the body. However radiation compliance tests are not conducted with the phones in direct contact with the body.
The closer a cell phone is to the body, the higher the user’s radiation dose is. Most of the general public is unaware that the phone is always emitting radiation, when they are not talking or using the cell phone, during all the time the phone is waiting to receive the next call, message, or other notification. France’s data clearly shows that the way people use phones in real life could result in radiation exposures that exceed government radiation limits. For some phones the radiation exceeds by over 3 times.
Why is this referred to as as a “international health scandal” and termed “phonegate”?
This is considered a scandal because the test seems to be rigged. Phones are passing compliance tests but violate radiation limits because the test strategy does not measure use against the body in the way we actually use cell phones.
The issue has been termed “PhoneGate” because of the parallel to “Diesel Gate.” In “Diesel Gate,” Volkswagen cars passed diesel emission exams when tested in laboratory conditions, however, when the cars were driven on real roads, they emitted far more fumes. In the same way, every one of these cell phones tested by France ‘passed’ laboratory radiation tests and were marked compliant. Yet when France tested phones in body contact positions, the radiation levels were triple the compliance test limits.
Why don’t cell phone companies test phones in body-contact positions?
Before coming onto the market cell phones do not need to be be tested in direct body contact positions for radiation emissions. In fact, manufacturers can set distances of 15 or 25 mm when they perform SAR radiation testing for their phones and they are still within the law.
CTIA, which is the wireless industry’s lobby group, has long argued that “there is no reliable evidence proving that current testing protocols fail to ensure compliance with RF standards.” This is stated in the CTIA submission to the US Federal Communications Commission regarding the FCC Proceeding on Human Exposures to Radiofrequency Radiation. CTIA also stated, “a zero-measuring requirement would not accurately mimic real usage or increase safety.” The French data release provides solid reliable evidence that refutes those CTIA statements.
Is this the first time such testing at zero distance has been done?
Levels which exceed the regulatory maximum limits at zero distance have been shown many times. For example, a 2017 investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found radiation levels higher than government standards after they tested popular cell phones in a US FCC certified laboratory. Israeli news featured an investigation in which phones were tested by the Holon Institute of Technology in Israel and many were found to exceed radiation limits, especially after phones were repaired in a shop.
In fact, years ago and repeatedly, researchers and scientists documented this testing problem and have been calling for immediate action to update cell phone compliance testing to reflect the way people actually use cell phones in direct contact with the body. A 2002 study reported that SAR will be up to seven times higher when the back of the cell phone (where the antenna is located) is placed in a shirt pocket next to the skin. The study concludes, “This implies that a telephone tested for SAR compliance against the model of the head may be severely out of compliance if it were placed in the shirt pocket.”
Has France released all of the data?
No. There is believed to be significant information still missing from the information posted by ANFR. Dr. Arazi sent a letter to the Director-General of ANFR, Gilles Brégant, asking for this information, including:
- The SAR measurements for extremities. The 2016 ANSES report stated that 25% of the 95 mobile phones tested in 2015 by ANFR in contact or near contact with the skin were above the regulatory threshold of 4 W/kg. Yet this data is not on the spreadsheet.
- The measurements of the whole body SAR.
- The complete technical reports for each test.
- The SAR data for body contact positions for several phones, including the Apple iPhone 7 and Sony Xperia XA, are omitted from the ANFR spreadsheet. Where are the SAR measurements for these phones? Why is that data missing?
On June 19, 2017, Dr. Marc Arazi wrote two French Ministers, informing them of this issue and asking them to take action. He tells them about the missing data and states, “a further delay in the transmission and publication of these missing data would undoubtedly be an inexcusable fault”. Read his translated letter to the Ministers here.
So far, Dr. Arazi has not received a response to these questions by ANFR. Update: ANFR wrote Arazi that they will respond to his questions by July 13, 2017. He has not received response from the French Ministers.
What are the government cell phone radiation regulatory limits?
Before a cell phone model is permitted to go on the market for sale, its manufacturer performs Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) tests to evaluate the radiation levels. SAR values are expressed in terms of watts per kilogram (W/kg) and are intended to measure the amount of cell phone radiofrequency radiation absorbed by the body when using a wireless device. The SAR limits were developed decades ago.
Europe has different cell phone radiation compliance limits than the United States and Canada.
In Europe the SAR limits are as follows. For the head and trunk, the SAR limit is 2.0 watts per kilogram averaged over 10 grams of human tissue for 6 minutes. For extremities such as the wrists, ankles, hands, and feet, the SAR limit is 4.0 W/kg averaged over 10 grams of tissue for 6 minutes.
In the United States and Canada the SAR limits are as follows. The FCC and Health Canada limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is a SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue. For extremities such as the wrists, ankles, hands, ears, and feet, the allowable SAR limit is much higher and is 4.0 W/kg averaged over 10 grams of tissue.
Why aren’t countries changing policy?
Policy takes decades to catch up with science. In Europe, a new June 2016 regulation forces manufacturers to measure SAR radiation for extremities (hands, feet, wrists and ankles) at 0 mm.
However, for the torso (trunk, legs and arms), manufacturers can still radiation test with a distance between the body part and the phone. They are not required to test at 0mm body contact positions. They can choose (at the manufacturers discretion) a separation test distance of a few millimeters and still be compliant.
In contrast the Unites States, nothing has changed for almost two decades.
How do the French measurements compare with United States/Canada radiation limits?
If you compare the French body contact measurements with US/Canada regulatory limits, the numbers are much much worse. Almost ALL of the cell phones France tested would exceed US/Canada safety radiation limits by an even greater amount. Experts state the numbers could be at least two to three times more than the French government reported SARs.
The US SAR limit is 1.6 W/kg, which is stricter than the European limit of 2.0 W/kg. However, the European SAR limit averages over 10 grams of tissue and US/Canada averages over 1 gram of tissue. This averaging by either a 1 gram or 10 gram volume is very important. Averaging over a larger volume—such as the 10 gram volume—allows much higher peak radiation values, such as are at the tissue locations closest to the cell phone.
So for example if the French data shows a SAR measurement of 5 W/kg at 0 mm, the same phone when measured according to US SAR test procedures, would be at 15 W/kg.
Citations that document the 1 gram versus 10 gram SAR:
Gandhi, Om P., and Gang Kang. “Some present problems and a proposed experimental phantom for SAR compliance testing of cellular telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz.” Physics in Medicine and Biology 47.9 (2002): 1501.
Gandhi, Om P., and Gang Kang. “Inaccuracies of a plastic” pinna” SAM for SAR testing of cellular telephones against IEEE and ICNIRP safety guidelines.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques 52.8 (2004).
Kang, Gang, and Om P. Gandhi. “SARs for pocket-mounted mobile telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz.” Physics in Medicine and Biology 47.23 (2002): 4301.
Gandhi, Om P. “Yes the children are more exposed to radiofrequency energy from mobile telephones than adults.” IEEE Access 3 (2015): 985-988.
Gandhi, Om P., and Gang Kang. “Some present problems and a proposed experimental phantom for SAR compliance testing of cellular telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz.” Physics in Medicine and Biology 47.9 (2002): 1501.
Note: When you see SAR discussed as a “volume” even though the weight of grams is mentioned (1 gram or 10 gram), this is because the physical set-up of equipment used in these outdated tests relies on the lab demarcating a cube representing the mass of 1 gram or 10 grams and testing within that volume.
What does SAR mean?
The exposure standard for wireless mobile phones employs a unit of measurement known as the Specific Absorption Rate or SAR. SAR is a measure of the rate of radiofrequency energy absorption into the body from the cell phone.
The SAR limit was developed decades ago. At that time, the SAR limit was set to protect human users of cell phones from overheating or thermal effects. The thermal heating effects of cell phone radiation are well established to be harmful to health.
How are phones SAR tested?
SAR testing uses a plastic dummy model based on a large 220 pound adult male body—larger than 90% of the population. The plastic shell of the test dummy is filled with a liquid. Each cell phone is tested while operating at its highest power level. The phone is precisely positioned at the head and body with a spacer or plastic ear, and a robotic probe measures the electric field at specific locations within the dummy head and torso.
The US government does not perform independent cell phone compliance testing. In the United States, each manufacturer submits their own SAR testing results to the FCC. The situation is the same in Europe and worldwide. Manufacturers do the testing, not governments.
Does the government allow manufacturers to test with these separation distances?
Yes. In Europe, manuacturers can test with up to a 15 mm distance between the phone and torso per European regulations. In the United States, regulations allow even more distance and some phones are tested at a distance of ¾ of an inch.
Current regulations do not force companies to test cell phones or wireless devices at positions that are 0 mm to the body, despite billions of people using cell phones in this way.
Manufacturers can set test with seperation distances at their discretion.
Do these separation distances really matter?
Yes. Every millimeter you distance the cell phone away from your body can substantially reduce your exposure. As the French data shows, phones can meet regulations when tested at a 15 mm distance and be three times the maximum limit when tested at body contact distance.
For example, the Polaroid PRO 881A had a SAR of 1.5 W/kg when compliance tested at 15 mm distance but had a SAR of 7.42 W/kg when tested with 0 mm separation distance. Similarly, the Apple iPhone 5 had a SAR of .825 W/kg when compliance tested at 10 mm distance but had a SAR of 5.321 W/kg when tested with 0 mm separation distance.
Do manufacturers inform consumers of these distances?
In the United States, manufacturers can set the test separation distances. They have the distances in the fine print of their manuals, usually buried within the legal fine print.
Please see these examples of manufacturers’ fine print instructions from the past and present:
For body-worn operation, this phone has been tested and meets FCC RF exposure guidelines when used with an accessory that contains no metal and that positions the mobile device a minimum of 1.0 cm from the body. –Samsung Galaxy Note 3
“Use hands-free operation if it is available and keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.98 in. (25 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 the wireless network.” –Blackberry Bold Manual
“To reduce exposure to RF energy, use a handsfree option, such as the built in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories. Carry iPhone at least 10mm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as tested levels. Cases with metal parts may change the RF performance of the device, including its compliance with RF exposure guidelines, in a manner that has not been tested or certified.” –Apple iPhone 4
“This device meets RF exposure guidelines when used either in the normal use position against the ear or when positioned at least 1.5 cm away from the body. When a carry case, belt clip or holder is used for body worn operation, it shouldn’t contain metal and should position the product at least 1.5 cm away from your body… Ensure the above separation distance instructions are followed until the transmission is completed.” -LG G3
Why isn’t the public informed about this?
The cell phone industry has repeatedly sued local governments that attempt to inform citizens about these distances. In California, the City of Berkeley was sued by the main Wireless Industry Association, called the CTIA, when Berkeley passed an ordinance mandating consumers be informed of these manufacturers’ instructions by retail stores. The CTIA argued that the Berkeley “Right To Know Ordinance” violated free speech rights. Previously, in 2012, the CTIA had successfully halted a similar ordinance in San Francisco, but in 2017 they lost their case against Berkeley in court when the judges ruled that the Cell Phone Ordinance was “in the public interest.”
France is one of over a dozen countries with policy to adress cell phone radiation exposure. However France’s National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) 2016 Report conceded that the public is still largely unaware of instructions to put a distance between one’s cell phone and body or head. ANSES stated that it was “unlikely that people, especially children, are aware of the conditions of use close to the body, as defined by manufacturers.”
Similarly, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) independent survey of more than 11,000 Canadians found that more than 80 percent were unaware of manufacturers’ recommended separation distance and 67 percent admitted they carry their phones against their bodies. In parallel, an Australian study found that 25 per cent of women have carried their smartphone tucked into their bra.
Manufacturer’s’ instructions to keep a distance are noted within the fine print deep inside cell phone manuals. Most people erroneously assume that cell phones are safe any way they use them.
What is the solution to this problem?
- Cell phones and wireless devices should be tested in commonly used positions—especially positions that mimic direct contact to the body. Devices should meet regulatory limits when tested in all possible positions.
- The cell phone and wireless device certification process must be fully re-evaluated and updated to incorporate different modes of use, different head/body sizes (child and adult), and different tissue properties.
- Laboratory conditions must consider the interactions with metal from internal and external sources (braces, fillings, metal implants, piercings, etc.) and other environmental conditions that occur during real use of cell phones.
- To ensure the public is protected, a systematic research review by accountable, independent groups is needed to develop safety standards that protect the public from thermal and non-thermal effects. Anatomically-based models of children and pregnant women must be employed in revising safety limits, and children’s developmental stages must be considered.
- The public needs to be fully informed about the radiation that wireless devices emit and how to reduce emissions and exposures. People need to keep cell phones away from their body.
The above are simply a few of the ways that our cell phone certification process must be updated.
Will glasses, braces, ear piercings, metal phone cases, or metal jewelry affect how your body absorbs radiation?
Yes. Metal can reflect and refocus cellular radiation, resulting in much higher absorption rates. The FCC, states, “Electrically conductive objects in or on the body may interact with sources of RF energy in ways that are not easily predicted. Examples of conductive objects in the body include implanted metallic objects. Examples of conductive objects on the body include eyeglasses, jewelry, or metallic accessories.”
Published research shows that eyeglasses with metal frames and metal jewelry can affect the SAR levels. For example, a study found the SAR measured in the eye closest to the phone increased up to almost 30% when metal glasses were a part of the calculation. Similarly, publications have reported that the peak SAR can be up to 25% higher when a 900 MHz phone is pressed up to an ear pierced with a metallic object such as an earring. Another study looked at the SARs into the leg and reproductive organs when a cell phone was placed in a pocket alongside a keychain with a metal ring and found that the presence of a metallic ring significantly increases the averaged 10g SAR inside the testicle by more than 20% at 1.8 GHz. Metallic implants inside the body have been found to increase the SAR levels in several studies.
Manufacturers warn consumers about metal cases in their fine print warnings. For example the Apple iPhone 5 states, “Cases with metal parts may change the RF performance of the device, including its compliance with RF exposure guidelines, in a manner that has not been tested or certified.” However, they do not warn about eyeglasses or placing a cell phone in a pocket next to a keyring, which is something people typically do.
So far, governments have neglected to consider metal in their regulatory compliance testing, despite the fact that metal (body-worn or internal) will interact with the cell phone radiation absorption into the user’s body. The SAR test dummy does not have any metal (e.g., dental fillings, dental braces, earrings, piercings, orthopedic implants, wire-supported bras, or eyeglass frames) that could increase the radiation absorption beyond the laboratory measurements. Yet people use cell phones near metal. This is yet another important reason why current SAR testing is inadequate.
Myth: Even though the SAR measurements are high, “it does not matter” because the phone does not go to high power in everyday use.
Fact: The SAR method tests phones at their highest power levels—a worst-case scenario. However, there are many common circumstances under which a phone will go to higher power.
Phones go to higher power due to use of applications.
- If more apps are running, the phone is going to higher power to run all of them. Apps are often updating and running even when you are not using them. Widgets are also constantly syncing with the cell tower. More apps running simultaneously = higher exposures.
- Heavier downloads increase power. For example, uploading and downloading music, live streaming, or movie files will result in more radiation than texting.
The harder a phone must work to get a connection, the higher the power.
- When you are inside a car, bus, train, or elevator, the phone goes to a higher power to force its radiation through the metal walls to connect to a network base station.
- While you are moving from location to location, such as in vehicles (e.g., cars, trains, buses, aircraft) or cycling, walking, jogging, running, etc., the phone goes to a higher power each time you’re in the fringes of a network base station’s coverage area as the phone must check in with the next closest base station in order to remain connected to the network. These higher power connections will happen continuously during travel as the phone is communicating (checking in) with each network tower/antenna you pass by.
- Metal also reflects this type of radiation, therefore the radiation exposure can be far more intense if you are inside a room or vehicle with metal exterior or metal furnishings and moving. Radiation ricochets around in these spaces and generally this intensifies exposure.
- Phones use more power when trying to connect in low-signal areas. So if you are further from a cell tower because you are in a rural area, or if you are in a large building and not near windows, or if you are in a basement, the cell phone will go to higher power to make a network connection.
- Note: If you are using Wi-Fi on a laptop or tablet or other device and the signal is low, the same concept applies. The wireless device will go to a higher power to connect if the signal is weak.
It would be incorrect to dismiss the French data by claiming phones do not generally go to higher power. Phones do go to higher power in real use situations. Many parents give their children cell phones or tablets for streaming movies while traveling in a car; the phones usually rest in the children’s laps for long periods of time during such use. This is one important example of a time when the phone could go to higher power.
Is this a radiation concern only for cell phones? What about other wireless devices?
All wireless devices have this problem—including laptops, tablets, wearables, Wi-Fi routers, baby monitors, printers, keyboards, mouse, gaming consoles, smart utility meters, and many other “wireless” or “smart” devices and sensors. Manufacturers are not required to test these devices at 0 mm distance from the body. Instead, many of these devices are tested at 20 cm (approximately 8 inches) from the body in the compliance testing protocols.
The Samsung laptop manual states, “Keep safe distance from pregnant women’s stomach or from lower stomach of teenagers. Body worn operation: Important safety information regarding radiofrequency radiation (RF) exposure. To ensure compliance with RF exposure guidelines the Notebook PC must be used with a minimum of 20.8 cm antenna separation from the body.” Yet most people place laptops directly on their lap.
The Apple watch states, “When placing Apple Watch near your face, keep at least 10 mm of separation to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as-tested levels,” despite the fact that people may sleep with their watches on their wrists and have their heads nestled against the watches.
When these devices are tested in positions mimicking direct body contact or positions closer than 8 inches distance to the body—such as a laptop on the lap, or a printer placed to the side of a desk so that the person is close to the printer—then radiation limits can be exceeded. Yet the public is largely unaware and people commonly use wireless devices closer to their bodies than these distances.
Read about the fine print warnings for many wireless devices at webpage on fine print warnings here.