A federal judge in San Francisco today struck down part of a city law requiring radiation exposure warnings on cell phones, but said the city could still require retailers to distribute a revised fact sheet.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on an industry challenge to a San Francisco ordinance known as the “Right to Know” law, enacted in 2010 and revised this year.
The measure requires cellphone retailers to display fact sheets, posters and stickers informing customers of an alleged possible risk from radiofrequency radiation and ways customers can reduce their exposure.
An industry group called CTIA-The Wireless Association claimed the measure violated retailers’ First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to distribute information they consider inaccurate or misleading.
The ordinance was due to go into effect on Oct. 24, but the city agreed to delay the implementation until Alsup ruled.
In today’s decision, Alsup struck down the requirements for warning posters on store walls and stickers on cellphones, saying that both intruded on the retailers’ own messages.
But he said the city could continue to require sellers to give customers a 5-inch-by-8-inch fact sheet prepared by the city, so long as the sheet was revised to avoid giving a misleading impression.
Alsup said federal courts have ruled that governments can require businesses to provide accurate facts relevant to public health.
“The First Amendment permits a government to require businesses to disclose accurate and uncontroversial facts as long as the disclosures are reasonably related to a governmental interest in preventing deception or in protecting public health and safety,” Alsup wrote.
Alsup said the fact sheets must make it clear that the Federal Communications Commission has set radiofrequency safety limits for cellphones and that any phones sold must comply with those limits.
But he said the facts sheets could add a phrase saying that “no safety study has ever ruled out the possibility of human harm from radiofrequency exposure.”
City Attorney Dennis Herrera praised the part of the decision allowing the fact sheets to be used, but said he will appeal the rest of the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“We will ask the 9th Circuit to uphold the portion of the ruling that allows the fact sheet to go forward, but we will also ask the court to make clear that we have even broader authority to protect the health of our people,” Herrera said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News