State Dept.: No action 'needed' to counter Iran's alleged censorship of Google, other social media

The State Department signaled Thursday it did not feel it "needed to take any particular action" to counter the Iranian government's decision to block its citizens' access to e-mail or social media.

While State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley criticized each of those transgressions, he stressed during his press briefing Friday that it was up to those companies to decide how to next proceed.

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He ultimately repeated the White House's line that Google had not contacted federal officials about the incident, preferring to handle it internally. And Crowley would not say whether other technology companies had experienced similar difficulties in Iran, much less whether those firms too had spoke with federal officials, only noting the department has an "ongoing relationship" with social media providers.

"Clearly, we are monitoring what’s going on," Crowley said. "We have great concern that when a government goes to the extraordinary step of taking down its phone network, both landlines and mobile, and when it takes down its satellite television capability, it’s not only jeopardizing its relationships with those who seek a different kind of relationship with government; they’re probably also alienating their supporters as well."

"But it is a draconian step, and as I said before, it is a remarkable statement today of how significantly the Iranian Government now fears its own people," he added.

Google first addressed the likelihood that Iran had manifestly blocked e-mail service on Thursday. The alleged censorship seemed to stem from the wave of anti-government protests that have at times crippled the Middle Eastern state -- instances of dissidence that supporters have promoted on Gmail, Twitter and other social networking services.

Many hoped the State Department might try to intervene on protesters' behalf, as it has done previously. When Twitter planned to begin maintenance on its networks during the height of those demonstrations last year, the federal government recommended it halt its work for a few days -- a request Twitter honored.

Reporters asked Crowley on Thursday whether the State Department might act similarly this week, perhaps asking those technology companies to improve their services in Iran to ensure free speech. But the spokesman clarified that the State Department didn't actually intervene in last year's dispute -- rather, it made a request of a private company, which Twitter heeded on its own volition.

"[O]ur action last summer was a call to Twitter, and it was actually Twitter that took the action that had the impact on the ground in Iran," he said. "Since that time, we’ve spent a lot of time developing a strong relationship with the leaders of these emerging technologies, helped them understand their importance in different parts of the world."

"So at this point, really, it is the companies themselves who understand the importance that these technologies have in various places of the world, whether it’s Iran or other places," Crowley added. "And at this point, they are taking their own steps. So in this particular case, I’m not aware that we needed to take any particular action."