Wireless industry group sues San Francisco over new cellphone radiation law

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Cellphone retailers in San Francisco are required to post a phone’s SAR rate, a measure of radiation absorbed by a user’s body tissue. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times.

A wireless industry trade group is taking the city of San Francisco to court over a controversial new cellphone law. The group, known as CTIA -- The Wireless Association, filed a lawsuit Friday to stop a law that requires cellphone retailers in San Francisco to post in their stores each phone’s ‘specific absorption rate,’ a measure of radiation absorbed by a user’s body tissue that each manufacturer is required to register with the Federal Communications Commission.


Commonly known as SAR rates, the radiation levels vary from phone to phone. Scientific studies have come to conflicting conclusions on the effect of such radiation on users. The CTIA said in a statement that it filed its suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco because the law could mislead the public into believing that one phone is safer than another because of lower radiation levels.

‘The FCC has determined that all wireless phones legally sold in the United States are ‘safe,’ ' John Walls, a CTIA spokesman, said in the statement. ‘The San Francisco ordinance, by conveying a misleading impression about the relative safety of wireless phones, will hinder – rather than assist – consumers in making their choices.’

San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera said the law passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Gavin Newsom in June has solid legal footing.

‘The plaintiffs seem to be arguing that improving cellphone users’ access to radiation levels will confuse customers and is somehow illegal,’ Herrera said. ‘Right now that same information is available online through the FCC and often also in the user manuals of phones, so I don’t see how it could be confusing really.”

The new law requires major cellphone retailers to post SAR notices in their stores starting in February, while other, smaller retailers will have until 2012 to comply, he said.

Every phone sold in the U.S. is limited to a SAR rate of 1.6 watts per kilogram by the FCC. The rates for each phone are available on the FCC’s website.

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles