News | THE WIRE REPORT
Published: Monday, 01/19/2015 4:48 pm EST
Last Updated: Monday, 01/19/2015 9:24 pm EST
OTTAWA — The former president of Microsoft Corp.'s Canadian operations is calling on companies involved in wireless technology to be more forthcoming in addressing what he says are health risks associated with exposure to signals transmitted from various devices.
Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada from 1990 to 2004, is now CEO of a group called Canadians For Safe Technology (C4ST). He was in Ottawa Monday to help promote a private member's bill (Bill C-648) tabled by Conservative MP Terence Young. The bill, if passed, would require labels on wireless technology or packaging that addresses possible health risks from the devices.
In a news conference on Parliament Hill, Clegg called on those in the wireless industry to either back the bill or declare their products safe.
"I'm calling on the manufacturers and distributors of wireless devices to openly support this bill," Clegg said. "The World Health Organization states that these devices emit a type of radiation that may cause cancer. In the face of this obvious product liability and danger, not one CEO from any manufacturer or wireless distributor in this country has come forward to state that their products are safe."
Clegg noted that many device makers warn users not to hold devices close to their bodies while using them, though this is seldom-read information that tends to be in fine print on booklets that come with the products.
"Today you have to go on a search mission to find the safety warnings buried in the devices that all of us use in our daily lives," Clegg said. "None of [the companies] are proactive in providing the information needed to use their devices safely. Not Apple through to Microsoft, not Cisco, not even Bell, Rogers and Telus. None of them have any notices clearly noticeable on the products that we're putting in the hands of every Canadian, especially our children."
Clegg added: "It's time for the company leaders in this country to answer a simple question: Are your products safe? Yes or no. ... So far, there is consistent evidence that manufacturers and distributors avoid the question. So it's time to stand up and admit what they already write in fine print: Wireless devices may cause cancer. Handle with care and learn to use the technology safely."
During the news conference, Young said studies have also suggested wireless radiation exposure may be linked with fertility problems.
"The purpose of Bill C-648 is to protect Canadians by changing the way we think about cellular telephones, WiFi, portable telephones, baby monitors and other wireless devices, by empowering them with the information they need to understand potential serious risks to their health from long-term and continuous use of these devices and the greater risks to children," Young said.
The Wire Report asked the three national wireless incumbents, Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. for comment on the proposed law. Bell and Telus deferred to the Canadian Wireless Technology Association (CWTA) on this issue. Rogers did not respond.
CWTA spokesman Marc Choma said the warnings Young and C4ST called for are unnecessary when it comes to cellphones.
"In terms of cellphones, the overwhelming evidence in the credible scientific community, as determined and published in studies worldwide, continues to support the conclusion that there is no demonstrated public health risk associated with the use of wireless technologies," Choma said in an email.
"Government agencies responsible for establishing safe limits for signal levels of wireless devices also support that wireless technologies are not a health risk," he added. "The signal levels from all wireless devices are well below the safety limits established by Health Canada and other international governmental departments, and as such, there is no reason to put a warning on cellphones."
Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that there is a lack of evidence connecting health problems to wireless communications.
"I've been in this field since 1971, and every year someone publishes a biological-effects study and people get all excited and start saying this is the end of the world as we know it," Foster said in a phone interview. "At the same time, health agencies review the whole body of evidence and don't see any clear sign of a problem, and that really hasn't changed."
Foster, who was part of a panel assembled by the Royal Society of Canada at the request of Health Canada to review regulations on human exposure to wireless radiation, said it's unclear what good would result from the warnings proposed in Bill C-648.
"I'm not sure that putting that kind of label on a cellphone or a Bluetooth device or a WiFi router is going to promote public health," Foster said. "It will certainly frighten people."
Foster noted that World Health Organization's categorization of wireless signals as possibly carcinogenic to humans also applies to coffee.
"Are you going to require Tim Hortons to put labels on their coffee machines?" he asked. "Again, it would serve no health purpose because it's not really clear that coffee does cause cancer. There's just some level of suspicion, and you frighten people without really giving them information that lets them make healthy choices."
Foster said the fine-print information that comes with devices to address radiation exposure often contains impractical suggestions designed to meet technical requirements of regulators such as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Foster said, for example, he owns a smartwatch made by Pebble that comes with the warning that users keep the product at least 2.5 centimetres away from their skin.
"I mean, my gosh, the thing's on my wrist," Foster said.
C4ST provided examples of what it says are less-than-obvious warnings to people from device manufacturers, including one from BlackBerry Ltd., which also uses 2.5 centimetres, or almost an inch, as the distance a device should be kept from one's body when connected to a network.
During the news conference, Young noted that he is a BlackBerry user and there are several things he does to mitigate the health risks of his device. They include using the speaker phone whenever possible so he isn't holding the cellphone against his head, putting his device in airplane mode overnight so it's not transmitting or receiving signals, texting when possible because it transmits less-powerful signals than calls and asking callers if he can get back to them on a landline when one is nearby.
C4ST issued a statement that said Bill C-648 has multi-party support that includes members of the Conservative caucus, as well as NDP health critic Libby Davis and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, among others.
Jake Enwright, press secretary for Industry Minister James Moore, said it's too early to say whether his boss will support the bill.
"It's a bill we just received today," Enwright said in a phone interview Monday. "We'll do our due diligence on our end and the department will obviously make a recommendation, and so too will parliamentary committees."
— With reporting by Derek Abma at firstname.lastname@example.org
and editing by Anja Karadeglija at email@example.com