Why has France banned the Apple iPhone 12?

18 Sep 2023

The Apple iPhone 12. Image: © eremin/Stock.adobe.com

France’s national authority for radio equipment found that the iPhone 12 model emits higher radiofrequency radiation than is allowed in Europe.

Last week, a national regulator in France made the bold decision to ask Apple to stop selling its iPhone 12 model in the country after it said tests found the device emits radiation levels higher than what is allowed in Europe.

The ban, which went into effect on 12 September, brings the issue of smartphone radiation levels back into public debate at a time when Apple just unveiled its latest iPhone 15 model during a highly streamed announcement event last week.

Agence nationale des fréquences (ANFR) is the main market surveillance authority in France for radio equipment. It is responsible for controlling public exposure to electromagnetic fields and conducts inspections on mobile phones selling in the country.

According to current regulation, smartphones are expected to respect a maximum radiofrequency specific absorption rate (SAR) of 4 W/kg when the device is held in the palm of one’s hands or placed in a trouser pocket.

However, ANFR said its measures show the iPhone 12 exceeds the limit by having an SAR value of  5.74 W/kg.

“Consequently, Apple must immediately adopt all necessary measures to prevent the iPhone 12 in the supply chain from being made available on the market,” the agency said in a statement.

“As for those telephones that are already in use, Apple must adopt all necessary corrective measures to bring the telephones into conformity as soon as possible; otherwise, Apple will have to recall the equipment.”

‘Not a safety concern’

Apple has responded by saying it will release a software update that can address the issues.

“We will issue a software update for users in France to accommodate the protocol used by French regulators. We look forward to iPhone 12 continuing to be available in France,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters. “This is related to a specific testing protocol used by French regulators and not a safety concern.”

The iPhone 12 was first released only three years ago, in a launched that was was delayed due to production issues and Covid-19. All four models of the smartphone marked a big change in the iPhone’s design and came with 5G compatibility for the first time.

This is not the first time allegedly high radiation levels in smartphones has concerned regulators.

In 2019, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigated whether the level of radiation emitted by certain smartphones, including ones made by Apple and Samsung, is safe for users. None of the phones were deemed unsafe at the time.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic