Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reflections on Precaution, Regulation, and Cell Phones

For the last two years, I've been using an iphone 3G that didn't work very well.  I couldn't hear without putting it on speaker phone and the reception was poor, especially in my home.  But I kept using it because it was unusually low radiation for a smartphone.

Yesterday, as part of a broader movement towards functionality I've been trying to make this summer, I decided to switch providers to get on a lower cost family plan and have better reception.  Of course, providers make it so that you have to switch phones to do this, and so I faced a dilemma; I wanted an iphone, but the only option was the higher radiation 4G phones.  So, I did some research into cases, and discovered a company named Pong Research that claims to make cases that massively decrease cell phone radiation (a claim which seems to have been verified by reputable independent testing).  While looking at the various user reviews of these cases, one comment jumped out at me: someone queried whether if it was relatively straightforward to reduce radiation so much, why not just require cell phone manufacturers to include this technology.

I've been wondering ever since about this question, and would welcome thoughts from blog readers who know the law regulating cell phone radiation better than I do.  The scholarly literature on this topic is still relatively limited, and litigation is still emerging.  It seems to me that the underlying issue relevant to environmental law professors is what precaution means in this context and how that should influence an appropriate response.  At what level should standards be set, given that they vary greatly around the world?  If technology exists to bring down radiation to significantly lower than those standards, should that be required or optional? How should this issue be situated within the broader conversation about risk, cost benefit, autonomy, and the precautionary principle?  I think these questions are hard, especially when considered in the context of environmental justice and the unequal choices people have regarding risk.

In the meantime, I'm cautious and so am trying to limit my family's exposure to this and other things that I perceive as risky.  I similarly no longer microwave plastic and opt out of the airport scanning machines, even when I'm given a lecture about how much more radiation I get from flying itself.  I'm not sure how these choices would fit within a fully rational risk assessment--I drive most days after all, among other choices--but I do my best to navigate the simultaneous information overload and underload that I experience.

Hari Osofsky

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Comments

If there is a concern of radiation from cell phones, require a sticker. If there truly is a public concern about the levels of radiation, then people will make purchase decisions accordingly. No need for regulating the levels.

If you are concerned about the radiation level in your phone, have you ever thought to not use a cell phone?

Posted by: guest@guest.com | Jul 26, 2012 6:28:26 AM

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