Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. An RFID tag consists of a tiny radio transponder; a radio receiver and transmitter. When triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader device, the tag transmits digital data, usually an identifying inventory number, back to the reader. This number can be used to inventory goods. There are two types. Passive tags are powered by energy from the RFID reader’s interrogating radio waves. Active tags are powered by a battery and thus can be read at a greater range from the RFID reader; up to hundreds of meters. Unlike a barcode, the tag doesn’t need to be within the line of sight of the reader, so it may be embedded in the tracked object. RFID is one method of automatic identification and data capture (AIDC).
RFID tags are used in many industries. For example, an RFID tag attached to an automobile during production can be used to track its progress through the assembly line; RFID-tagged pharmaceuticals can be tracked through warehouses; and implanting RFID microchips in livestock and pets enables positive identification of animals.
Since RFID tags can be attached to cash, clothing, and possessions, or implanted in animals and people, the possibility of reading personally-linked information without consent has raised serious privacy concerns. These concerns resulted in standard specifications development addressing privacy and security issues. ISO/IEC 18000 and ISO/IEC 29167 use on-chip cryptography methods for untraceability, tag and reader authentication, and over-the-air privacy. ISO/IEC 20248 specifies a digital signature data structure for RFID and barcodes providing data, source and read method authenticity. This work is done within ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 31 Automatic identification and data capture techniques. Tags can also be used in shops to expedite checkout, and to prevent theft by customers and employees.