Cell Phones
Renee Kelley

With technology advancing, ethical issues of cell phone use have been questioned.  Many people wouldn’t know that cell phones actually date back to 1908 when the first patent for a wireless telephone was issued to Nathan Stubblefield.  It wasn’t until 1983 though, that the first actual mobile phone was approved by the FCC in the United States.  Now today, there are over 4,100 million cell phone subscriptions in the world (Wikipedia).  Good and bad things have come with the advancement of cell phone technology.  Cell phones improve the efficiency of our lives, come in handy in emergencies, and keep us in close contact with our families and friends, but there are also ethical dilemmas that arise from the use of cell phones.  Cell phones distract us when we are driving, they may have a detrimental effect on our health, and they bring issues of privacy to a forefront.    

The distraction of cell phone usage while operating a moving vehicle has been a major ethical concern.   Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries every year in the United States (Britt, 2005).  Studies show that the reaction time of cell phone users slows drastically.  This includes their reaction time after hitting the brake and getting back in the flow of traffic.  So why are people allowed to talk and drive?  Only five states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington), the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from talking on handheld cell phones while driving.  With the exception of Washington, all these laws are primary enforcement.  Primary enforcement means that an officer may ticket a driver for using a handled cell phone while driving without any other traffic offense taking place.  No state completely bans cell phone use; handheld or hands free (GHSA).  

There are two primary ways to address the ethical use of cell phones while driving.  Cell phone users can take responsibility for their actions and self-police and/or legal measures can be put in place to enforce specific behavior.  Cell phone users can take steps to reduce accidents and deaths caused by cell phone distraction while driving.  Instead of taking a phone call while driving they can find a safe spot to pull over and effectively eliminate the risk of distraction.  If a call must be taken the best possible solution would be a hands free device that allows greater control of the vehicle.  As studies show increased distraction during text messaging, it would be beneficial to completely avoid this type of cell phone use while driving.  The Government of individual States and/or the nation as a whole can also take steps to prevent certain activities by imposing stricter cell phone use regulations and penalties.

The medical risks of cell phone use present another ethical issue.  The most common concern is the effect of radiofrequency (RF) energy waves produced by phones when held close to the head.  FCC regulations limit the amount of radiofrequency energy that can be produced by a cell phone.  These levels of radiofrequency energy waves are far below those determined by some scientists to have the potential for a negative effect on people’s health.  The argument is ongoing; the FCC/FDA stresses there is no scientific evidence demonstrating harm from short term exposure to low levels of radiofrequency energy waves (About.com). 

Recent research has shown that health risks are greater for cell phone users that live and work where base stations are farther away or fewer in numbers because the farther a cell phone is from a base station, the more radiation it requires to send a signal and make a connection.  Other studies have indicated using a cell phone an hour a day for ten years or more can drastically increase the risk of a brain tumor (About.com).  For many the uncertainties about the health risks associated with cell phone use are enough to create concern.  So what can be done to minimize the ethical consideration of medical risks involved with cell phone usage?  People should talk on cell phones only when necessary, as well as use hands free devices whenever possible.  Parents should minimize their children’s cell phone use, providing a cell phone to a child only in the case of an emergency.  Until governing bodies impose stricter regulations and are able to more accurately report on the specific hazards associated with cell phone use, individuals will have to take some simple measures.  

Privacy is another ethical issue with mobile phone technology.  Privacy is not only an ethical issue for the cell phone user, but for the people within hearing distant of the user.  For the cell phone user, the cell phone has stripped many from their privacy.  Many people are reachable before, during, and after business hours thanks to cell phones; for some the work day never ends.  Cell phones are to be considered a private means of contact, but more and more telecommuting companies are recruiting cell phone numbers as well.  Privacy and comfort of individuals near cell phones users is also often compromised.  People on cell phones tend to talk louder and project the intimate details of their conversation to anyone within earshot.  Privacy issues become a great concern as cell phone use becomes more and more widespread.  There are currently only a few places that prohibit cell phone use entirely, for safety reasons, such as medical facilities and airplanes.  As cell phone use and coverage becomes more pervasive and readily available, it will be up to the individual users to exercise courtesy and restraint.

All these issues are ethical dilemmas that surround cell phone technology.  Rushworth Kidder suggested this Code of Ethics for cell phone users (Globalethics.org).  By simply using this list of ethics involving cell phones, cell phone users could help mitigate the ethical issues discussed above.


Cell Phone User’s Code of Ethics

As a responsible cell phone user, I promise to: 

   -Limit any conversation that is audible to others to short and concise moments.
   -Make every effort to move to a private place if I do have to take or make a call.
   -Turn my phone ringer off when at public events or meetings.
   -Refuse to discuss private matters when others can hear. 
   -Not talk on my cell phone while driving, because doing so endangers myself and others.
   -Not disrespect my friends and co-workers by interrupting our conversations to take a call.
   -When in the presence of others, never use a louder voice on the cell phone than I would in a normal conversation.
   -Show, by example, that being respectful helps everyone and hurts no one.

There may be ethical issues surrounding cell phone technology, but don’t let it stand in the way of the advantages because they do exist.  Cell phones are great sources for emergencies.  They allow people to get help almost immediately when needed.  Cell phones also are a major convenience in people’s life.  They allow people to be contacted away from land lines; this works great for people that travel a lot or are just hard to reach in general.  Cell phones are a fantastic addition to the growth of technology when used properly. 


                                                    Works Cited

Britt, Robert Roy. “Drivers on Cell Phones Kill Thousands, Snarl Traffic.”

           LiveScience. 1 Feb. 2005. 21 Apr. 2009


“FDA-FCC Tackle Cell Phone Health Risks.” About. 20 May 02. 21 Apr.

          2009 <http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa052002a.htm>.

GovernementHighwaySafteyAssociation. Apr. 2009. 21 Apr. 2009


Kidder, Rushworth M. “Suggestions for a Cell Phone Code of Ethics.”

          GlobalethicsEd. Carl Hausman. 12 Nov. 2007. 21 Apr. 2009



West, Larry. “How Safe Are Cell Phones.” About. 21 Apr. 2009


Wikipedia.  24 Apr. 2009. 21 Apr. 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/