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PhoneGate, Explained

PhoneGate

Between 2012 and 2016, France’s National Frequency Agency (ANFR) tested 379 different models of cell phones for their radiation emissions. Earlier this month, compelled by a court order, ANFR released the data they had collected. The result is now being called ‘PhoneGate’ and is gaining an increasing amount of attention.

Why?

What the Report Found

The French government found that 89% of the tested phones exceeded their reported radiation emission levels— some by up to 300%. That means these phones emitted up to four times the radiation the manufacturers claimed.

The Environmental Health Trust has summarized the data thusly:

French government tests on hundreds of cell phones reveal that in 2015, 9 out of 10 phones exceed the manufacturer’s reported radiation test levels when re-tested in positions where the phone is in contact with the body. The government had refused to disclose these test results until the court order.

That sounds pretty bad. But it’s even worse than that.

Not only do these phones emit more radiation than the manufacturers claim, these phones exceed legal limits of radiation emissions when held in contact with the human body.

The data from ANFR’s release is embedded below, at the end of this post.

Why Now?

Dr. Marc Arazi
Dr. Marc Arazi

ANFR released the data following the issuance of a court order. This was the result of legal action brought by Dr. Marc Arazi. His petition for the data was initially rejected by the French government, which is why he pursued legal action.

Arazi explains:

As a physician, I am deeply concerned about what this means for our health and especially the health of our children. People have a right to know that when cell phones are tested in ways people commonly use phones – such as in direct contact with their body – the values exceed current regulatory limits. This is a first victory for transparency in this industry scandal.

Why ‘PhoneGate’?

Dr. Arazi and others have dubbed this ‘PhoneGate’ because of the similarities to Volkswagen’s ‘Diesel Gate’ scandal, when it was shown that VW programmed their diesel cars to emit less pollution in labs than they do in real life usage. In real world usage, VW diesel’s emitted illegal levels of pollution.

As Dr. Devra Davis, head of the Environmental Health Trust, explains:

Volkswagen cars passed diesel emission tests when tested in laboratory conditions, but when the cars were driven on real roads, they emitted far more fumes. In the same way, every one of these cell phones ‘passed’ laboratory radiation SAR tests. These phones are legally considered compliant. However, when these phones are tested in the ways that people actually use them in real life, such as in your jeans pocket or bra, the amount of absorbed radiation emissions in our bodies violates the regulatory limits.

How PhoneGate is Different than Diesel Gate

With Diesel Gate, Volkswagen intentionally programmed their cars to emit less pollution when tested than they do in real life. Volkswagen rigged their products to intentionally deceive regulators.

PhoneGate, on the other hand, is more about the massive discrepancy between how phones are tested and how they are actually used in real life.

In other words, the cell phone makers aren’t deceiving the regulators. Instead, the regulators allow the cell phone makers to deceive the public, while still complying with the law. These tests simply do not match how people actually use phones, and the test results are not indicative of real life radiation exposures.

For example, in the United States phones can be tested at distances of 5 to 15mm (0.2 to 0.6 inches) away from the user’s head or body. But in real life, people who talk on their phone (without using the speakerphone or a headset) hold their phone immediately against their heads— not half an inch away. The same is true for those who carry their phones in their bras or pockets.

So the scandal here isn’t that the manufacturers are lying– it’s that the tests are rigged to show “safer” levels of radiation emissions and human absorption than we experience in real life.

That’s the problem.

The Raw Data

Below is the raw data released by ANFR.

  • Column A is the manufacturer.
  • Column B is the phone model.
  • Column C is the date that ANFR tested the phone radiation.
  • Column D is the SAR (in W/kg) from the test at the head.
  • Column E is the SAR (in W/kg) from the test at the body.
  • Column F is the distance between the phone and the body that the phone’s manufacturer used in its own testing.
  • Column G is the SAR (in W/kg) when tested with a 5mm distance from the body.
  • Column H is the SAR (in W/kg) when tested in contact with the body.

Column H is the really important one, because it gives a SAR value when the phone is in contact with the body. You will note that the SAR value in Column H is higher than the SAR values in columns D, E and G, thus demonstrating that when the phone is touching your body, your radiation exposure is much higher than the manufacturer reports.


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