Google makes the claim as part of its argument to be allowed to release more details about the NSA's PRISM program, which involves gathering data from tech companies. Google -- along with Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook -- filed suits in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking permission to publish the information.
Google says in its papers that it is seeking a declaratory judgment that it has a First Amendment right to publish “the total number of compulsory requests it receives under various national security authorities and the total number of users or accounts encompassed within such requests.”
The company adds that it takes issue with press reports that it allows the government to “tap into” the company's servers in order to snoop on users -- though Google's argument on that point seems largely semantic. After all, even if Google doesn't provide the government with a direct pipeline to data, it still hands over a lot of information about users.
Facebook makes a similar argument in its papers, saying that news reports about the NSA's PRISM program “have raised serious concerns among the people around the world who use Facebook and the public at large about the Internet surveillance activities of the U.S. government and the response of providers who may receive orders issued by this court.”
If nothing else, the fact that four major Web companies are joining forces in an effort to release more information shows that they feel threatened by the revelations about the NSA. That makes sense, given that consumers seem warier of the Web now than before the revelations surfaced. Consider, Pew said last week that almost nine in 10 Web users now take steps to mask their identities online; these methods include deleting cookies, clearing browser histories and using encryption services. And Omnicom's Annalect recently reported that 57% of Web users surveyed in July were concerned or very concerned about online privacy, compared to just 48% in June.