Brussels, 11 Feb 2004
Mobile communications mean different things to different people. For young people, a cool way to chat with friends; for businesses, an essential tool; and, for scientists, a source of concern over what impact these technologies may have on health and the environment.
These issues were at the core of a heated discussion last month on the merits of mobile communications in relation to three key issues: health, the environment, and society. The European Commission put this event together in Brussels to examine the risks – but also assess the 'best practices' – that these technologies pose for Europeans.
Bringing a range of contributors to the debate – including representatives from Europe's mobile operators who were attending a parallel Mobile Manufacturers Forum, as well as the scientific community and industry leaders – helps policy-makers form a more robust response to the challenges raised by this ever-changing field.
Mobile technologies, such as GSM telephones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), make a major contribution to Europes's economy and its citizens, the Commission notes. But these benefits, argue scientists, may be at the expense of the users' health. Heinz Zourek, deputy director general of the Enterprise DG, told delegates during his keynote speech 'Risks and governance' that the EU is actively involved in research and programmes to shed light on this sensitive subject.
"We have done our utmost to communicate the risks to our citizens and review new scientific findings as they appear," he said, stressing that the European Council recommendation in this area is based on "sound science that are applied in most Member States".
Day one of the event was a chance to look more closely at the scientific consensus on mobile technologies and health. Among the questions asked were: what drives public concern in this area, how is this risk communicated, and to whom? The second panel of the day – entitled 'What is the contribution of mobile communications to society?' – provided a platform for intense discussion on such topics as mobiles' contribution to the French economy, British attitudes to mobile technology, and the ecological impact of information communications technologies.
Delegates also discussed whether the 'precautionary principal' applies to mobile communications – which implies the need for rigorous scientific research to assess fully the risks associated with them. For this, the speakers called for sensible governance and informed decision about the consequences of these new technologies on the environment and on society.
The second day focused on distilling the 'best practices' of Member States attending the event in order to help formulate policy – and to inform awareness campaigns – in this vital area. Here, they studied the current regulatory framework and looked to apply a consistent set of limits to address public concern following full and fair public debate.