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RF Warnings on Cellphones? A Judge Balances Cellphone Company Health and Your Health


Americans are used to warning labels.  They're everywhere!

Take a look around your house, there's one on that box of plastic trash bags, there's one on the dishwasher detergent pods, on every box of over the counter medicine you have on hand--even on the saline nasal spray--which is just plain old saltwater. America likes warning labels.

They're particularly welcome on cigarette boxes and vape pens. But the court just decided, they will not be on cellphone boxes or anywhere near a cellphone.

In order to see the warning that comes with cellphones or any wireless device, you'll only find it in the cellphone manual.

The City Of Berkeley has been trying to put this cellphone and smartphone radio frequency (RF) radiation exposure warning wherever phones were sold since 2014.

cellphone RF radiation or SAR warning label

Joel Moskowitz of details what they called the Right To Know ordinance.  Basically, it takes the information that's provided about safe distance in every cellphone manual and enligten's you before you buy.

The Cellphone Industry Group the CTIA has been trying to stop the City of Berkely from posting cellphone warning labels for a long, long time.

It's gone back and forth  for awhile - and it looks like the final day in court was Thursday, September 23rd, 2020.

As can happen in a court of law, sometimes it isn't about ruling on what's right or wrong, it's about how the case get's argued.

Sometimes the final ruling isn't actually fair or just. What's the real reason why the Warning Label On Cellphones Won't Be Allowed?

Here's summary of what the court said about the lawsuit the mobile phone industry group, the CTIA brought against the city of Berkeley.

1. The Court Said Warning Consumers Is A Good Idea.

The CTIA argued that the warning label Right to Know ordinance violated the First Amendment.

To that the Court said the warning was absolutely factual and that protecting people was a really good idea and in fact something the government should do

"there is no question that protecting the health and safety of consumers in a substantial government interest"


2. The Court Said The Warning Was True and Accurate

Not only was a warning on cellphones a fine idea, The Ninth Circuit ruling says they didn't think the warning was untrue or even of controversial,

  "the City’s ordinance was factual and uncontroversial. The text of the compelled disclosure is literally true"


3.The Court Agreed The Warning Was Not Misleading

The ruling even pointed our that the Right To Know cellphone label was pretty right on when it comes to providing correct information,

 "The Ninth Circuit was not persuaded by CTIA’s contention that the ordinance was inflammatory and misleading. For example, the first sentence of the compelled disclosure “tells consumers that cell phones are required to meet federal ‘RF exposure guidelines’ in order ‘[t]o assure safety.’ Far from inflammatory, this statement is largely reassuring” because “[i]t assures consumers that the cell phones they are about to buy or lease meet federally imposed safety guidelines.”

5. The Court Said The Safety Warning Was Same One The FCC Already Requires in User Manuals

The super long 18 page ruling goes onto point out that this really isn't new information, the FCC is supposed to make sure manufacturers tell consumers about RF radiation risks.

" in fact, the ordinance was not controversial because [i]t does not force cell phone retailers to take sides in a heated political controversy. The FCC’s required disclosure is no more and no less than a safety warning, and Berkeley’s required disclosure is a short-hand description of the warning the FCC already requires cell phone manufacturers to include in their user manuals."


6. The Court Nixed Cellphone Warning Labels Based on Preemption

Preemption can happen when there is a conflict between state and federal law.

7. The Court Reminded The CTIA That Federal Laws Require The Cellphone Industry To Warn People

The Cellphone group oddly said that the FCC does not compel manufacturers like Apple, Sony, Google or Samsung to tell consumers about things like SAR and RF radiation exposure.  But the court said hold on there fella.

  "Ninth Circuit was not persuaded. The court noted that, “[b]eginning in October 2015, the FCC required cell phone manufacturers to inform consumers of minimum separation distances in user manuals.” Id. at 850 (citing In re Exposure Procedures and Equipment Authorization Policies for Mobile and Portable Devices, FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Laboratory Division § 4.2.2(d) at 11 (Oct. 23, 2015)). Because of the FCC’s requirement, the court found the preemption argument untenable:"

8. The Court Said The Right To Know Was Just Repeating An FCC requirement

"Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and directs consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure. Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it."


9. The Court Told CTIA That They're Arguing Some Points That Don't Even Apply Here- don't you hate when that happens?

 The CTIA cellphone representative group presented the 2019 RF Order(a document from the FCC that addresses RF exposure), said that new warnings and disclosures were not required- and therefore should not be allowed!   The Court said, uh, no and actually, leave us out of this argument 

"The Court, however, need not resolve this dispute because the 2019 RF Order does not state what CTIA (or the FCC) claims it does. That is, as noted above, the 2019 RF Order on its face simply indicates that additional disclosures about RF exposure and safety are not required but that does not address whether additional disclosures are permitted. It simply embodies the FCC’s recognition that there are competing interests with which it must contend."


10. The Court Said The Cellphone Warning Could Not Remain Because it "Over-Warned."  The Judge noted that The FCC Must Balance Public Health With Helping The Industry Prosper and Grow Quickly.  Therefore "over- warning" might be just too much. 

The Court said that the argument all comes down to dealing with the fact the FCC has to consider both the health and safety of people buying cellphones and the health and safety of the cellphone industry and that the 2019 RF Order specifically talked about the danger of over-warning people about a particular danger. 


"In the instant case, there is no dispute that the FCC has been tasked with accommodating competing objectives. Under the Federal Communications Act (“FCA”), “the FCC was tasked not only with protecting the health and safety of the public, but also with ensuring the rapid development of an efficient and uniform [telecommunications] network, one that provides effective and widely accessible service at a reasonable cost.” 4 Id. at 125. Similarly, under the TCA (which amended the FCA), the FCC was again “tasked not only with protecting health and safety of the public, but also with ensuring rapid development of an efficient and uniform network.”5 CTIA, 928 F.3d at 850. And by being tasked with the development and deployment of an efficient and uniform telecommunications network, it may reasonably be inferred that this task encompassed promoting the growth of that network and related services. This evidently is what underpins the FCC’s concern in the 2019 RF Order of “overwarning” consumers."

So, the warning that's allowed to hide in the fine print of our cellphone and smartphone manuals has to stay there.  Buried at the end of the PDF, where most of us rarely bother to open.  The phones are built to be self-explanatory. 

 There the warning sits.  Lonely. Often ignored. Want to make your warning feel like it has a purpose?  Here's what you can do.  Most phone manufacturers hide the required warning in Settings under General, then cellphone radiation and RF disclosures .

On iPhone, do this:  Go to Setting> Then Click General>The Click RF Exposure

Here's what mine says:

iPhone has been tested and meets applicable limits for radio frequency (RF) exposure.

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) refers to the rate at which the body absorbs RF energy. The SAR limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram in countries that set the limit averaged over 1 gram of tissue and 2.0 watts per kilogram in countries that set the limit averaged over 10 grams of tissue. During testing, iPhone radios are set to their highest transmission levels and placed in positions that simulate uses against the head, with no separation, and when worn or carried against the torso of the body, with 5mm separation.

To reduce exposure to RF energy, use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories. 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.

SAR values for this device are available at:,5/en/

Although this device has been tested to determine SAR in each band of operation, not all bands are available in all areas. Bands are dependent on your service provider’s wireless and roaming networks.


That's a quarter of an inch.  That means don't touch it if you want to stay within the safety exposure limits.  That's what iPhone had to do to pass the safety limit when they measured the radiation coming from the phone.



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