The U.S. Department of Justice has officially begun shopping for a university to conduct an independent technical review of Carnivore, the e-mail bugging system.
The request for proposals was posted on the department's World Wide Web site Aug. 23, and Attorney General Janet Reno said proposals are due Sept. 6.
"I plan to have a final decision on a university by Sept. 15," Reno said during a Justice Department press conference Aug. 24. "We are committed to having an independent technical review complete by Dec. 1."
Reno said the process will ensure a level playing field among universities with an interest in conducting the review.
Since the public learned of Carnivore in early July, members of Congress, privacy advocates and civil liberties organizations have expressed serious concerns over its use and potential for abuse.
The request for proposals notes some of the concerns, including that the system could provide investigators with more information than legally allowed by a court order or be used for unlawful invasions of privacy.
FBI officials say the system typically is used to capture only very specific e-mails and targets only the "to" and "from" lines of an e-mail message. But officials say the bureau can and has used the system to capture entire e-mail messages.