Federal court panel finds Berkeley’s cellphone disclosure ordinance in compliance with 1st Amendment

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Rachael Garner/File

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A federal court panel has found the city of Berkeley’s cellphone disclosure ordinance, originally passed May 12, 2015, to comply with the First Amendment, as first reported by the East Bay Times.

The ordinance, known as the “right to know” ordinance, requires shops to display a notice stating that cellphones must meet federal radiofrequency radiation exposure guidelines. The panel found that the ordinance complied with the First Amendment because it was of “substantial government interest” and “purely factual.”

“All that the ordinance says is (that) the same information buried in your user manual will be posted at the site where you buy your cellphone,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance. “We are not making any new scientific standard or policies or descriptions. We are simply providing the public with information that the federal government already provides.”

Worthington called the ordinance “simple and straightforward,” adding that he does not see the ordinance affecting the sale of cellphones in Berkeley. According to Worthington, the ordinance does not aim to injure the cellphone industry. Worthington said he believes that the ordinance may cause consumers to use earbuds more, to promote “hands-free” usage of cellphones.

CTIA, an organization that represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley in June 2015, alleging that the ordinance violated the First Amendment. CTIA spokesperson Savannah Borders cited a portion of the court opinion in an emailed statement, in which the federal court panel agreed with CTIA about a lack of evidence regarding the dangers of radiofrequency radiation.

“We respectfully believe this fact demonstrates why the Berkeley ordinance violates the First Amendment since it necessarily makes Berkeley’s ‘warning’ misleading,” Borders said in her email.

But Joel Moskowitz, director of the UC Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health, said the ordinance continues to be of public interest because it highlights what the Federal Communications Commission wants consumers to know.

Moskowitz added that media coverage of the ordinance was important in raising awareness about cellphone radiation.

“This ordinance will have widespread implications for other localities that have been trying to adopt similar laws,” Moskowitz said. “I think they are all watching the outcome of the Berkeley case because they don’t want to engage in action that is futile for them.”

Contact Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @asreekanth_dc.