And then they are one court order away from being unlocked.
Seeing that it turns out that nobody's tinfoil hat was big enough, I am going to make a prediction. It will turn out that Google was sharing data with the NSA as part of a deal where the NSA would share software patent data from potential foreign competitors with google so that google could keep the market on just about anything it wanted.
I wonder how many foreign companies went to file a patent only to find that an American company that was friends with the NSA had filed the patent days before? Siemens filing patents only find that GE had done so the day before?
The NSA would only have had to monitor a very few IP lawyers' offices to vacuum up a huge number of patents. This would then give the NSA something that they could afford with which to trade and it would "Protect" US commercial interests; as it would be a complete disaster for the next facebook or Google to be in a country that isn't friendly with the NSA.
Even within the US I suspect that it would be easier to not have to negotiate a new data access deal with even domestic companies so why not hand their patents over as well.
Think of it this way. If a company were to come up with a better search algorithm (one that didn't always bring up yellow page directories for every damn search, or spammy product sales sites) and I said you should try boobla.com (I made that up) as a search engine and you tried it and it was so much better, would you ever use google search again? How fast would you tell all your friends about boobla? Thus how long before google was seeing 40% month on month drops in search traffic? Unlike companies like Ford where a better car coming along doesn't get you to dump your ford and immediately buy the better car google can see the rug swept out from under them. If they lost search then all their other services combined would not be able to prop up the company. Plus there is no reason that boobla.com can't be Chinese, Korean, Icelandic, German, or Tanzanian?