CTIA fights San Francisco cell safety law again

The mobile trade group has sued to block enforcement of a law requiring warnings about phones

The CTIA mobile trade group is asking a federal court to stop San Francisco from making cell-phone retailers post warnings about radiation dangers from phones, just a week before an annual trade show that CTIA moved out of the city because of the law.

CTIA's complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday, seeks an injunction to stop the city from enforcing the Cell Phone Right-to-Know ordinance, which is scheduled to go into effect later this month. The law would require stores that sell cellular devices to display posters and distribute materials to consumers warning them to limit their exposure to the devices.

The latest complaint is CTIA's second legal action against the San Francisco law. The city's Board of Supervisors first passed the law last year in a form that required retailers to disclose the amount of radiation emitted by each phone they sold. CTIA promptly challenged that version and tried to deal a financial blow to the city by permanently moving its CTIA trade show out of San Francisco after 2010. The CTIA Enterprise & Applications show will take place in San Diego next week.

After CTIA sued, the city amended the law to remove the listing of radiation levels for each phone model, switching to general warnings about the alleged danger of cellphones in general.

CTIA told the court that San Francisco violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free speech as well as the authority of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate phone safety. The law would force phone sellers to distribute misleading information, the group said.

"The materials the City would require be posted and handed out at retail stores are both alarmist and false," John Walls, CTIA's vice president of public affairs, said in a statement Tuesday. "The FCC and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have repeatedly found that cell phone use does not pose a danger to human health."

Among other things, CTIA slammed the warnings for advising users to turn off phones while not in use, limit phone use by children and keep distance between phones and the body. The posters and fact sheets call cellphone radiation a possible carcinogen.

The court battle is only the latest skirmish in an ongoing controversy over whether radiation from cellphones poses a health hazard. Some studies have shown an increased risk of brain tumors for people who talk on cellphones, especially children and teenagers. But CTIA and others contend there is no health risk. In its new complaint against the San Francisco law, CTIA said the FCC's rules for phones sold in the U.S. set a limit at one-fiftieth of the amount of radiation that causes any biological effects.

San Francisco officials were not immediately available for comment on the suit.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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