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DTI and Which? at odds over phone safety

The Reg wonders who to trust

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Consumers have been left without a clue - should they go hands-free or clamp their mobile phone to their ear?

Research published by the government today indicates that hands-free mobile phone kits are safe to use. These new findings appear to totally contradict a recent report from Which?, the consumers association magazine.

However, the two opposing views could be a result of nothing more than a dispute over methodology. One group of researchers measured the amount of radiation emitted by the phones, while the other measured radiation absorbed by the body, while using the phone.

The Consumers Association (CA) said that it was not convinced that specific absorption of radiation (SAR) test was reliable or safe. Helen Parker, the editor of Which? said: "We stand by our original test results published earlier this year. We think there are problems with current SAR testing for hands free kits and we are carrying out more research into this area."

So who is to be believed? A spokeswoman for the DTI said that it was not the department's place to comment on other people's research, and that its findings showed all the absorption levels were within the safe parameters set by the National Radiological Protection Board. The whole report can be found here.

Meanwhile, the CA says that there is no standard SAR test, and that results vary widely from laboratory to laboratory. The DTI says that since this experiment compared SAR levels without and then with a hands free kit in the same lab, the results are indeed reliable.

It is difficult to know who to trust since both groups have strong motives to keep the debate running. The CA wants to sell more reports and the government stands to make a handsome wedge from the sale of mobile phone licences.

There is more information available than ever before on the safety of mobile phones, but it is often contradictory, and little help to the end users who need to make the risk assessment for themselves. The most sensible thing The Reg has heard in the debate is the suggestion that until there is clearer information, calls should be kept short. ®

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