San Francisco axes cellphone warning law in settlement with CTIA

The law would have required cellphone retailers to provide information about alleged dangers of cellphone radiation

San Francisco killed its cellphone radiation warning law on Tuesday by agreeing to settle a lawsuit by the mobile industry group CTIA.

The settlement, approved on Tuesday night by a 10-1 vote by the city's Board of Supervisors, ended a nearly three-year legal battle that sometimes brought to a boil the simmering debate over alleged health dangers from cellular radiation.

In February 2010, the city passed a law that would have required every store selling phones in the city to display the SAR (specific absorption rate) of radiation expected from each model of phone. The stores would also have to provide information about the possible dangers of cellphone radiation and tips for minimizing exposure.

CTIA sued almost immediately in federal court to have the law struck down. Among other things, CTIA argued that it was illegal for the city to regulate cellphone emissions because the Federal Communications Commission has the sole authority to do so. The FCC requires phones to fall under a certain level of radiation it considers safe.

In addition to suing, the group said it would no longer hold its CTIA Wireless trade show in San Francisco, dealing the city a potential economic blow.

San Francisco later scaled back the law, taking out the requirement to show each model's SAR but still requiring general warnings about radiation. CTIA sued again, saying the law would violate retailers' freedom of speech. It slammed the materials that the city proposed to require in stores, which would have included suggestions that users turn off their phones when not in use, limit children's phone use and keep a distance between phones and their bodies.

CTIA won its court battles all the way through the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled in March that the group was entitled to attorney's fees. Faced with the prospect of paying those fees, estimated at about US$500,000, the city settled with CTIA out of court. In the settlement, CTIA waived its right to attorney's fees and San Francisco pledged, among other things, that it isn't considering any more laws requiring disclosures of cellphone radiation.

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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Tags regulationCivil lawsuitslegalctiamobilegovernmentSan Francisco Board of Supervisors

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