In the wake of Edward Snowden's security leaks beginning in the summer of 2013, National Security Agency (NSA) collection of "metadata" was met with widespread distrust by American citizens. Public opinion polls taken between June of last year through at least July of this year showed that the majority of Americans were opposed to the blanket surveillance and collection of their electronic communications.

To cite but one example, 87 percent of Virginians polled in June support the modernization of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), passed by Congress in 1986. So overwhelming was this position that pollster Brent Seaborn observed "There is a rare, overwhelming and incredibly diverse consensus among voters that ECPA needs to be updated. These levels of support are nearly unheard of in politics today. And what may be even more remarkable than the consensus is the consistency of this support regardless of gender, age, race or party affiliation. All candidates should note that this issue carries power whether they are involved in general election races or primary campaigns."

In recent weeks, the national security threat in the form of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its spread across Iraq and penchant for beheading Westerners seem to have stemmed the tide of American reticence for its government to collect mass amounts of data about them and their networks of friend and contacts. Last week, Pew Research reported "[i]n a reversal from last year after Edward Snowden's NSA leaks, 50% today say they are more concerned that government anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, while 35% are more concerned that the policies have gone too far in restricting civil liberties."


Yet, this poll tells only half the story. While Americans seem to have re-found fear of international Islamic terrorism — thus the willingness to allow the nation's security enterprise to protect them — there remains a disconnect about this feeling regarding domestic efforts to protect.

The recent events in Ferguson, Mo. have led to a nationwide dialogue about the "militarization" of police. Polls taken in the wake of police conflicts with protestors in the St. Louis suburb suggest that Americans do fear domestic law enforcement at levels not previously seen. A poll taken by YouGov/Huffington Post, for example, showed that only 28 percent of Americans believe that police use of military weapons is necessary, while 51 percent of respondents believe that police go "too far" in their use of those weapons.

Seemingly, several members of Congress and the Obama administration agree. President Obama recently announced that programs, including the Department of Defense excess property program which allowed DOD equipment to be sent to local and state police units, will come under review. According to a senior administration official quoted in The Washington Post, "Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate," which will assess "whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding."

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGiuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri McCaskill shares new July 4 family tradition: Watching Capitol riot video Joe Manchin's secret MORE (D-Mo.), a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental affairs, opined during that committee's hearing on "Oversight of Federal Programs for Equipping State and Local Law Enforcement" that she "question[s] whether state and local law enforcement agencies need this kind of equipment. One of the key lessons learned throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was the idea that we had to win hearts and minds, and one of the ways the military tried to do that was by acting more like a police force — working with communities, helping to repair broken windows and damaged property and trying to appear less militaristic with their presence in the communities. It is ironic that the Defense Department's policies are now fostering the opposite mentality at home." This was on Sept. 9, the same date that the Pew Research completed the poll illustrating Americans want more protection via surveillance.

In true bipartisanship, fellow committee member Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnNSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office Wasteful 'Endless Frontiers Act' won't counter China's rising influence MORE (R-Okla.) commented that "[i]t's hard to see a difference between the militarized and increasingly federalized police force we see in towns across America today, and the force that [President James] Madison had in mind when he said, 'a standing military force with an overgrown executive will not long be a safe companion to liberty.'"

It may be true that Americans, with reason, fear ISIS and thus seek assurances from the federal government that measures, including surveillance and collection of metadata, must and will be taken. However, that does not mean that a level of trust in "government" has returned to pre-Snowden leak levels.

Gibson is an associate professor of political science at Westminster College.