San Francisco thinks your cell phone is dangerous


PLF filed a brief today in CTIA v. San Francisco, CTIA’s challenge to San Francisco’s alarmist cell-phone warning scheme.

San Francisco adopted an ordinance in 2010, modified in 2011, which requires cell phone retailers to post warning signs, distribute a “fact sheet”, and affix on cell phones warning labels that all included statements advising the consumer that cell phones emit radio frequency (RF) energy that is absorbed by the body. They also advise the user on methods of reducing cell phone exposure. Here are what the warnings look like (click on picture for a larger view):

Of course, what San Francisco’s forced labeling doesn’t tell you is that there is actually no evidence that RF emissions from cell phones have any adverse health effects. They also don’t tell you that the World Health Organization’s classification of RF energy as a possible carcinogen simply means that there is no proof either way on its carcinogenic effect. The category also includes coffee and pickled vegetables. Oh, and they also fail to mention that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has determined that RF energy from cell phones poses no danger to consumers.

Late last year, CTIA challenged the ordinance as unconstitutional compelled speech. San Francisco defended it, claiming it has the right to force individuals and business to warn their own customers of non-proven dangers based on a “precautionary principle” that someday, someone might produce evidence that implicates cell phone use as a health risk. And that thus, consumers have a “right to know.”

The District Court found that the stickers and the signs violated the First Amendment, but that the “fact sheet” – if slightly modified – was constitutional. Both sides appealed to the Ninth Circuit where the case currently is under consideration.

PLF’s amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit argues that government cannot force private parties to engage in compelled speech based on nothing more than a speculative worry that a product might one day be shown to have health risks. Certainly, when health risks are established, government can force disclosure of such risks: for example, cigarettes. But when there is nothing more than consumer interest in the issue, the First Amendment doesn’t allow government to mandate such speculative disclosures.