Berkeley Votes to Create a Cell Phone Right-To-Know Law

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Berkeley City Council (California) voted to craft an ordinance requiring retailers to give consumers information on the safe use of cellular phones. This “right to know” ordinance will be among the first in the nation to require retailers to give consumers information about the safe use of their cellular phones. Phone manufacturers are mandated by the FCC to provide this information yet they usually bury the warnings in small print in the owner’s manual or in the cellphone itself – and most consumers’ are unaware of the conditions for safe use.

The FCC guidelines limit radiation exposure by keeping the phone a safe distance from your body. That is, do not carry your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is turned on and connected to a wireless network – or it may exceed federal RF guidelines.

In 2011, the city of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a similar ordinance after two years of deliberation. This was the first such law in the nation and the city was sued by the Tele-Com industry shortly thereafter. The ordinance required retailers to provide warnings saying that cellphones emit potentially cancer-causing radiation. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, won the case, arguing that this violated their First Amendment by compelling retailers to make what they claimed were misleading statements (i.e. cancer-causing radiation) about wireless phones.

Berkeley city Attorney Zach Cowan said it would be his task, working with pro bono outside attorney Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, to write an ordinance that would legally pass muster and not fall victim to the language problems of the San Francisco ordinance.


Judith Scherr, “Berkeley will Require Retailers Provide Cellphone Safety Information,” Contra Costa Times, November 21, 2014, “Berkeley Cell Phone “Right to Know” Ordinance,” Saferemr, March 27, 2015,

Student Researcher: Suzanne Pinar (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)