FCC’s Secretive Flip-flop on Cell Phones and SAR Data

For about 10 years FCC has been facilitating the public availability of data on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of cell phone models sold in the US and pointing out that people concerned about unknown safety risks of cell phone use might want models with lower SARs.  While there is no proof or evidence that cell phone emissions cause ANY health problems, exposure to such power is not necessarily health enhancing either.

Last week, FCC secretly made 2 changes on its consumer web site with respect to SAR.  These changes are described in detail on my blog. The changes were basically deleting a suggestion that consumers  consider “buy(ing) a wireless device with lower SAR” and adding “even though all cell phones must meet established federal standards for exposure to RF energy, some consumers are skeptical of the science and/or the analysis that underlies the FCC’s RF exposure guidelines.”  The second change was the creation of a new webpage entitled SAR For Cell Phones: What It Means For You” that tries to rationalize, poorly it turns out, this new policy.

While it is not meaningful to compare cell phone model A on carrier X's network with cell phone model B on carrier Y's network since networks with better coverage will generally have cell phone transmitter power levels being lower than networks with poor coverage; for a given carrier it is meaningful to compare the SARs of models offered.

The reason for this sudden change may be related to the CTIA law suit against San Francisco's recent ordinance requiring point of sale disclosure of SAR data.  At least this is the suspicion of Environmental Working Group (EWG).  In EWG's press release related to a FOIA request to FCC is the following statement of its reason to seek the information:

"to shed light on whether the trade association for the wireless industry is working with the FCC to challenge San Francisco’s Cell Phone Right-To-Know Ordinance, the first law passed by a U.S. jurisdiction to require retailers to display radiation values for individual wireless devices at the point of sale...As a consumer watchdog group, EWG suspects that CTIA wants the FCC to intervene in its lawsuit with San Francisco. And, in fact, the FCC has a history of siding with industry in legal disputes concerning cell phones."

Maybe there are good reasons to change the 10 year old FCC posture on the usefulness of SAR information to consumers, but a secretive change like the one that was just made raises questions of collusion with industry and does not help make the change credible.  Nor does it make a positive statement of the level of transparency at FCC.

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