Google (GOOG) asked the Department of Justice on Tuesday for permission to publish the total number of government requests for national security information, arguing the figures would show the company does not give the government "unfettered access" to its users' data.
The Mountain View company has come under scrutiny following disclosures in The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers of its role in a National Security Agency data collection program named Prism. Google was among nine U.S. Internet companies that were named as participants in the electronic surveillance program, according to leaked NSA slides.
Although President Barack Obama and senior U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed the existence of Prism, Google has vigorously denied that it gives government agencies "direct access" to its servers or that it complies with overly broad requests for user data.
"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are simply untrue," Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller that was published on Google's public policy blog Tuesday.
Drummond continued, "Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made."
The public furor over Google's role in the NSA's data collection program, which U.S. officials say only targets foreign nationals, comes at a time when Google is grappling with international privacy debates, particularly in Europe. The company, along with Facebook, has been lobbying the European Union to soften a proposed update to its data protection laws.