Cell phone warnings blocked in San Francisco: judge

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 27, 2011 8:03 PM
Cell phone warnings blocked in San Francisco: judge

By Dan Levine

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge blocked most of a San Francisco ordinance on Thursday that required warnings about cell phone safety risks, saying it violated the First Amendment.

Health questions about cell phone use grew this year after a group of World Health Organization cancer experts suggested that such use be deemed "possibly carcinogenic." Industry groups say this does not mean that cell phones cause cancer.

Among the ordinance's provisions is one requiring retailers to display large posters stating in bold that "studies continue to assess potential health effects of mobile phone use."

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said it was acceptable that customers be given "fact sheets" to discuss possible risks of cell phone use, but insisted on changes to the current sheets so they do not mislead customers into believing that cell phones are dangerous.

The judge disallowed provisions of the ordinance that mandate large posters and warning stickers on in-store displays.

The city will ask a federal appeals court to uphold part of the ruling which allows the fact sheet to go forward, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.

However, Herrera said he will also ask the appeals court to make clear the city has even broader authority.

"I disagree with his decision to limit the city's message in the way he has done," Herrera said of Alsup's ruling.

John Walls, VP of public affairs for wireless industry group CTIA, said the organization was considering its options.

"CTIA respectfully disagrees with the court's determination that the city could compel distribution of the revised 'fact sheet,'" Walls said in a statement.

Alsup ruled that most of the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution. San Francisco may "within reason" force retailers to communicate its message, Alsup wrote, but "cannot paste its municipal message over the message of the retailers."

Alsup temporarily blocked enforcement of the ordinance through November 30 pending expected appeals, and said he will void it entirely if the city refuses to revise the fact sheets.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is CTIA-The Wireless Association v. The City and County of San Francisco, California, 10-cv-3224.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Jon Stempel in New York, editing by Bernard Orr)