Cellular Rights

Originally appeared in the May 2000 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Cellular Rights


The right to keep and bear a cell phone is one our nation’s most cherished liberties, yet a movement is afoot to restrict this freedom. Bills have been introduced in 25 states to prohibit driving and talking.

Beware. Freedom of digitized speech is in danger. Outlawing driving while talking would be just the first step. Next it will be no checking voice mail while piloting jetliners, then no ordering pizza while inserting plutonium rods. Where will it end?

But there’s good news. Lobbyists for the National Association for the Extreme Pecuniary Benefit of the Cellular Phone Industry have persuaded members of Congress to introduce the Cellular Freedom Act (CFA). Here’s why you should support the CFA:

Driving and talking. Some people feel that driving while talking on a phone is dangerous because it is distracting to drivers. And indeed it can be. Trying to talk and drive through red lights while motorists are flipping you off and shouting obscenities can be dangerous and distracting, especially when you’re trying to concentrate on the newspaper.

Under the CFA, anyone flipping off a motoring-cell phone user will be charged with reckless driving and improper signaling.

Cellular disruption. Sometimes — about 5 million times each day — cell phones go off at inopportune times, such as in the middle of theater performances, sermons and U.S. Supreme Court proceedings. In our nation of misplaced priorities, it is cell phone users who are made to feel ashamed on such occasions, when in fact they are victims of rude behavior around them.

Are the lives of Supreme Court justices really so overburdened that it would kill them to let lawyers answer the phone during oral argument? Of course not, but I’ll bet they’d pitch a fit if an advocate so much as paused to check Caller ID.

The CFA will restore the dignity of cell phone users everywhere by requiring that all activity within 100 yards of a ringing cell phone cease immediately. Time shall remain suspended until the call recipient gives the all clear sign that the conversation is over and no further calls are expected.

In the event multiple phones ring at the same time, the loudest phone wins. Should a dispute arise, all callers shall call back and the subsequent “ring-off” will determine talking order.

Talk-Talk. Some people can’t understand why people must be on the phone every second of the day, no matter where they are or what they are doing. The fact is, blabbing addictions are a serious problem in the U.S. that we have ignored for too long.

The CFA recognizes “prattle disorder” as a disability that must be accommodated by federal law. Under the act, all movie theaters, performance halls and classrooms will be required to have designated “Talking Sections” with sufficient electrical outlets to meet the battery-charging needs of the Get Off the Freaking Phone!-impaired.

Still undecided in the fight for cellular rights? Ask yourself this: “What if some day I’m greatly exceeding the speed limit on the Interstate through a construction zone during rush hour and get an urge to call my significant other to exercise my first amendment right to have a highly emotional argument over who should pick up the dry cleaning? Do I want the government saying I can’t do that?”

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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