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Homeland Security

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): What is it?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology uses radio waves to identify people or objects. There is a device that reads information contained in a wireless device or “tag” from a distance without making any physical contact or requiring a line of sight.

RFID technology has been commercially available in one form or another since the 1970s. It is now part of our daily lives and can be found in car keys, employee identification, medical history/billing, highway toll tags and security access cards.

The United States government uses two types of RFID technology for border management—vicinity and proximity:

  • Vicinity RFID-enabled documents can be securely and accurately read by authorized readers from up to 20 to 30 feet away.
  • Proximity RFID-enabled documents must be scanned in close proximity to an authorized reader and can only be read from a few inches away.

No personal information is stored on the RFID card – only a number, which points to the information housed in secure databases.

Trusted traveler programs NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST have used vicinity RFID technology to speed travelers through land border entries since 1995.

Last Published Date: August 9, 2012
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