[Ed – The Department of Homeland Security issued this release on the the use of RFID in the US VISIT program]
What is Radio Frequency Identification Technology?
Radio frequency (RFID) identification technology refers to wireless systems that allow a device to read information contained in a wireless device or “tag” – from a distance without making any physical contact or requiring a line of sight between the two. It provides a method to transmit and receive data from one point to another.
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, highway toll tags and security access cards, as well as in environments where bar code labeling, which requires physical contact or a line of sight, is impractical or less effective. RFID has established itself in a wide range of markets including automated vehicle identification systems because of its ability to track moving objects.
There is no one definitive “RFID technology,” but, rather, an enormous range of technical solutions that vary in their complexity and cost, depending upon the functionality, packaging, and applications for which they are used.
In its simplest form in common use today, a “passive” RFID system works as follows: an RFID reader transmits via its antenna an electromagnetic radio frequency signal to a passive RFID tag. The reader receives information back from the tag and sends it to a computer that controls the reader and processes the information that has been retrieved from the tag. Passive tags do not have batteries and operate using the energy they receive from signals sent by a reader.
Application of RFID Technology to US VISIT
US VISIT is exploring the use of RFID technology as a tool that will better enable the program to fulfill its goals, which are to enhance the security of our citizens and visitors, facilitate legitimate travel and trade to and from the United States, ensure the integrity of our immigration system and protect the privacy of our visitors. RFID technology can improve the ability to match entries to exits without impacting processing time at the land borders and record arrivals and departures of a visitor in pedestrian and vehicle lanes – rapidly, accurately and reliably. It will also allow US VISIT to detect a visitor’s tag and provide the primary inspection process with information and a mechanism for establishing an accurate and timely record of exits without slowing a traveler through the process. Finally, RFID can also provide solutions that are not invasive and that protect the privacy of visitors.
As US VISIT moves toward improving the automated entry-exit system at the nation’s land border ports of entry, RFID technology offers a potential solution for an entry-exit operation that better facilitates legitimate travel and trade.
Protecting Privacy and Health Considerations
US VISIT will assure that our visitors’ information is always protected. The RFID technology used by US-VISIT will safeguard sensitive information. The tags will not include visitors’ biographic or biometric information. Rather, they will contain only a serial code that links to a visitors’ information securely stored in databases used by US VISIT. It will also be tamper-proof and difficult to counterfeit. There are many other layers of defense to prevent information being used incorrectly including:
- No personal information will be included on the tag
- Information on the tag cannot be changed
- The tag will only be activated once officially issued
- Personal information is only processed over secure communication paths
These factors will render ineffective so-called “skimming,” the use of unauthorized reading devices to capture information from such tags. A serial code would be meaningless to any third party trying to collect that information.
Also, it will be impossible to “track” the whereabouts of someone holding such a passive tag without a corresponding reading device. Concerns about such tracking using passive RFID are perhaps confused with Global Positioning Satellite devices, which rely on a completely different technology from that used by RFID and will not be used by US VISIT.
Radio frequencies emanating from RFID tags are far below the levels that could cause any harm to human health and below the typical ambient radio frequencies most people are exposed to in the United States on a daily basis from devices such as TVs and radios. Like these other devices, RFID tags and readers are regulated and their safety is certified by the Federal Communications Commission.
US-VISIT continues to test technologies that will help it better achieve its mission to enhance security of our citizens and visitors while facilitating legitimate travel and trade across our borders.