Radio Frequency Identification

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are tiny computer chips that can be encoded with any type of information. These chips are embedded within documents or objects to be used for monitoring or tracking purposes. When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, the RFID tags in the vicinity respond by automatically transmitting their stored information to the reader, at a distance, without alerting anyone that the tag is being read.

RFID technology originally gained a foothold in the commercial sector as a means to allow real-time monitoring and tracking of cattle in the fields and inventory moving through the supply chain.

The U.S. government initiated the rollout of RFID-embedded passports, and there are potential plans to embed RFID tags in other identification documents (see our information on the Real ID Act).

How does it work? The information that has traditionally been printed on the face of ID cards, such as our name, address, and unique identifier number, is encoded on a chip in the card. Without adequate privacy and security protections, our personal information could be transmitted without our knowledge. That means that whether we are walking down the street, participating in a political rally, or visiting a doctor’s office or a gun show, we are at risk of being tracked and stalked and of having our identity stolen.

The ACLU has been working to protect privacy, personal safety, and financial security and bring attention to the risks associated with the use of RFID technology in identification documents.