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Congress Enhances Security Measures for Phone Lines After Rising Threats Amid TikTok Debate

By Christina Davie
April 2, 2024

In a pivotal move to counteract rising security threats, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to upgrade its telephone system to incorporate caller identification features. This technological enhancement aims to tackle the surge in threatening calls stemming from the controversial TikTok bill discussions.

The caller ID integration is a direct response to the increased threats to congressional offices following TikTok's mobilization against a bill threatening the app's operation in the U.S, as the Daily Mail reports.

Amid growing concerns over national security, the House's decision to update its phone system comes after congressional offices were inundated with calls, including threatening messages.

These calls intensified following TikTok's campaign urging its vast user base in the U.S. to oppose the proposed legislation, which would mandate the app's divestment from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, citing espionage risks by Chinese officials.

Enhancing Security in the Digital Age

The Administration Committee, tasked with the oversight of this critical update, outlines that the integration of caller ID into the House's switchboard system is pivotal. This new feature is not just a technological upgrade but a significant step forward in ensuring the safety of lawmakers and their staff by identifying individuals behind threatening communications.

Despite the advancement, there remains a limitation; the caller ID feature cannot identify callers who choose to block their numbers. However, this enhancement still provides Capitol Police with improved capabilities to track and investigate calls that are deliberately obscured, marking progress in the ongoing battle against harassment and threats directed at congressional members.

The urgency of these updates cannot be overstated. The push for a bill that could lead to TikTok's ban in the United States has triggered an unprecedented wave of calls to House members. The influx, occurring twice within a single week, included emotional appeals from a broad spectrum of TikTok's user base, comprising children, concerned parents, and avid users of the platform.

TikTok's Pushback Against Legislative Threats

In an aggressive move to counter the legislative threat, TikTok leveraged its significant influence by sending push notifications to its over 100 million U.S. users. The message was clear: urge your congressional representatives to stand against the bill that poses an existential threat to the app's operation in the U.S. This mobilization highlights the deep-rooted concerns among users about losing access to a platform that has become a staple of digital expression and community for many.

The House China Select Committee has been vocal about the risks associated with TikTok, accusing officials from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of exploiting the app for espionage purposes. The Committee asserts that the app's algorithm could be manipulated to spy on U.S. users, further exacerbating the national security threat.

Amid the heated debate over TikTok's future in the U.S., some calls to Capitol offices have escalated to include dire threats. Reports have surfaced of messages threatening the lives of Congress members or hinting at self-harm should the app face a ban. This extreme reaction underscores the heated emotions surrounding the potential TikTok prohibition.

Legislative Response to Digital Threats

The seriousness of the situation prompted a memo from Administration Committee Chair Brian Steil and Ranking Member Joe Morelle, emphasizing the necessity of the phone system upgrades. The memo highlights the expectation that these changes will significantly bolster ability of U.S. Capitol Police' to identify and investigate the origin of threatening or harassing calls, thereby enhancing the safety and security of congressional staff and lawmakers.

The chilling effect of the threats was further illustrated by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who shared an audio recording of a call he received. In the recording, a child's voice can be heard making explicit threats of violence if TikTok were to be banned, highlighting the intense backlash from some quarters of the public over the proposed legislation.

Tillis, taking to the social media platform X, condemned the TikTok misinformation campaign for inciting such extreme reactions.

He warned that making threats against elected officials not only undermines the democratic process but could also constitute a federal crime, underscoring the legal implications of such actions.

A Call for Digital Civility and Security

In conclusion, the House move to update its phone system with caller ID technology is a significant measure aimed at addressing the surge in threats linked to the TikTok bill debate.

By enabling the identification of individuals making threatening calls, the update seeks to enhance the security of lawmakers and their staff.

This response highlights the growing intersection of technology, security, and governance in the digital age, where legislative bodies must adapt swiftly to protect against emerging threats.