Judge slams ‘dumb’ FCC in iPhone radiation lawsuit; case moves to trial

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The FCC is currently shut down.
A California judge whacks the FCC with a ruler over its testing standards for radiofrequency radiation, but says the case will continue.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

U.S. District Judge William Alsup allowed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Apple over allegedly exposing iPhone owners to high levels of radiofrequency radiation to move forward Thursday. However, the judge also blasted the Federal Communications Commission for its “dumb” testing standards.

Alsup took issue with what he called poor FCC testing standards that have too wide a range of emission levels. He said he couldn’t understand why the commission would allow the testing for cellphone radiofrequency radiation emissions to be done in a range between 0 millimeters and 25 millimeters away from the human body.

Criticism in blunt terms

“I can’t believe the FCC would be that dumb. That’s a terrible rule,” Alsup said Thursday, in court transcripts obtained by Cult of Mac.

The case alleges that Apple fraudulently marketed iPhones as safe, exposing consumers to excessive radiofrequency radiation. Much of the case is based on the FCC test results and the plaintiffs’ own, independent testing.

The plaintiffs claim Apple misrepresents and conceals to iPhone users that they will be exposed to radiofrequency radiation levels above the federal Specific Absorption Rate limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram. As a result, they say the FCC emission results exceed federal limits when used near the body.

In addition, the plaintiffs say that Apple is deceiving customers and that the suit is acceptable because the FCC can’t regulate Apple from not disclosing the results to the public.

Lawyers for Apple urged the judge to dismiss the case during a hearing in San Francisco, saying the problem is not with them or the iPhone, but issues with the FCC and the government agency’s testing.

Apple questions radiation testing results

Apple also alleged another major problem with independent testing done by the plaintiffs that it deems questionable. Apple lawyers informed Alsup that in December of last year, the FCC retested various models of the iPhone and this time found them to be in compliance.

Alsup responded, “How could it possibly be that two certified labs can come to different results?”

Apple’s co-counsel blamed the plaintiffs’ test results, saying they amounted to “cherry-picking,” and then choosing to submit the worst numbers.

Apple attorneys said the company thinks that if the case moved forward, the FCC testing system would become a mess, yielding unknown consequences for thousands of electronic products already on the market that rely on the accuracy of the results.

Alsup weighed on the side of caution, saying “let’s find out and have a jury decide.” The case is now scheduled to go to trial in July 2021.