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France: Law on Public Exposure to Electromagnetic Waves Adopted

(Feb. 5, 2015) The French parliament recently adopted a law regulating public exposure to electromagnetic waves. (Proposition de loi relative à la sobriété, à la transparence, à l’information et à la concertation en matière d’exposition aux ondes électromagnétiques, Texte définitif [Proposed Law on Sobriety, Transparency, Information and Consultation on Exposure to Electromagnetic Waves, Final Text], No. 468, Assemblée nationale [National Assembly, the French Parliament] website (Jan. 29, 2015).) The law still needs to be signed by the French President to enter into force.

The main purpose of this law is to protect the general public from excessive electromagnetic waves. The initial draft was submitted for consideration in January 2013, and the final draft represents a compromise between environmentalists, who were hoping for stronger limitations on electromagnetic waves, and cellphone service providers who were opposed to what they saw as excessive regulation. (Pierre Le Hir, Une loi pour encadrer l’exposition aux ondes [A Law to Regulate Exposure to Waves], LE MONDE (Jan. 29, 2015).)

As part of this compromise, the initial proposal to lower the legal range of allowable frequencies, currently set between 41 and 61 volts per meter, was abandoned. (Id.) However, the law requires the Agence Nationale des Fréquences (ANFR, National Frequency Agency), to perform a yearly evaluation to detect places where the public is exposed to levels of electromagnetic waves that are substantially higher than the levels generally observed nationally. (Proposition de loi relative à la sobriété … , art. 1; L’ANFR en quelques mots, ANFR website (last visited Feb. 3, 2015).)

The service providers who are responsible for places where the levels of electromagnetic activity are unusually high will then be required, if technically possible, to reduce these levels to more normal levels while maintaining coverage and service quality. (Proposition de loi relative à la sobriété …, art. 1.) The law also requires the Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire, de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses, National Agency for Health, Food, Environmental and Work Safety) to periodically evaluate the potential risks and consequences of exposure to electromagnetic fields. (Id. art. 3; Présentation de l’Anses, Anses website (last visited Feb. 3, 2015).)

Under the new law, service providers who wish to install new cell towers will have to inform the mayor of the town where the new tower is projected to be built, in addition to obtaining ANFR’s permission. The same is true in case the service provider wishes to significantly modify an existing cell tower (Proposition de loi relative à la sobriété …, art. 1.) In turn, town mayors will make any information received from service providers about cell towers publicly available. (Id.)

Other noteworthy provisions of the law are on the mandatory inclusion, in any advertising of cellphones, of information recommending the use of equipment meant to limit the exposure of the user’s head to radio waves (id. art. 5), and on the prohibition against installing WiFi terminals in places dedicated to welcoming children under the age of three, such as daycare centers. (Id. art. 7.)

Additionally, the law introduces the notion of “sobriety,” a new legal concept. (Id. art. 1.) This term was chosen during the course of the legislative process to replace “moderation,” the term used in the initial draft to characterize the acceptable amount of public exposure to electromagnetic fields. (Avis fait au nom de la Commission du développement durable et de l’aménagement du territoire sur la proposition de loi, modifiée par le Sénat, relative à la sobriété, à la transparence, à l’information et à la concertation en matière d’exposition aux ondes électromagnétiques [Opinion of the Commission for Sustainable Development and Land Use Planning on the Draft Law, Modified by the Senate, on Sobriety, Transparency, Information and Consultation on Exposure to Electromagnetic Waves], Assemblée nationale website (Jan. 20, 2015).)

This notion of “sobriety” has been criticized for being vague and non-binding. (Le Hir, supra.) Furthermore, telecommunications service providers have expressed concern that the law may promote exaggerated fears regarding electromagnetic waves among the general public. In their view, the law appears to be premised on the idea that electromagnetic waves may pose a greater health risk than seems to be supported by current scientific evidence. (La proposition de loi relative à la sobriété, la transparence, l’information et la concertation en matière d’exposition aux ondes électromagnétiques vient d’être adoptée à l’Assemblée nationale [The Proposed Law on Sobriety, Transparency, Information and Consultation on Exposure to Electromagnetic Waves Has Just Passed The National Assembly], Fédération française des telecoms [French Telecoms Federation] (Jan. 29, 2015).)