EMERGING INVENTORY TRACKING TECHNOLOGY
RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION
A Graduate Research Report Submitted for INSS 690
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of
Master of Science in Management Information Systems
Bowie State University
Maryland in Europe
12 May 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the most rapidly growing segments of today’s
automatic identification data collection industry. Applications that make use of RFID’s features
and capabilities are demonstrating significant improvements in processes implementing this
technology. Industry experts view RFID as a complement to bar code technology, in many
cases, both are used simultaneously. RFID technology, in fact, overcomes certain limitations
found in some bar code applications. Because it is not an optical technology like bar coding, no
line of sight is required between the reader and the identified object. In addition, RFID transmits
data wirelessly and is a read-write technology, so it can update or change the data encoded in the
label during the tracking cycle. RFID usage is steadily increasing. Annual shipment volume of
RFID tags, or transponders, is expected to grow to 1.62 billion in 2007. Despite this growth,
researchers believe that RFID will not significantly displace bar codes. In fact, most of the RFID
growth will come from emerging “smart label” technology, which combines the cost benefits of
bar coding with the functionality of RFID.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1. RFID Systems.............................................................................................6
Figure 2. RFID Solution Overview............................................................................7
Figure 3. A Simplified Supply Chain .......................................................................8
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an emerging technology that is used in a wide
variety of industry applications, such as automatic fare collection on bridges, turnpikes, and
public transportation. It is the media that gives customers the ability to participate in the wireless
pay-at-the-pump program offered by ExxonMobil, and hands-free access control security
systems in offices and factories. Also, all competitors in the Boston Marathon wear an RFID tag
in their shoelaces that identifies them the instant they cross the finish line.
RFID tags consist of an integrated circuit attached to an antenna, typically a coil of wires.
Data is stored on the integrated circuit and transmitted through the antenna. These tags can be
small as a grain of rice or as large as a brick. RFID tags are either passive, which requires no
battery, or active, which is self-powered by a battery. The data transmission speed and range
depend on the frequency used, antenna size, power output, and interference. Tags can be read-
only, read-write, or a combination, in which some data is permanently stored, such as a serial
number, while other memory is left available for later encodings and updates.
Information is sent to and read from RFID tags over radio waves. In passive systems, which
are the most common, and RFID reader or interrogator, transmits a signal that wakes up the tag
and provides the power to transmit or program data. In active systems, batteries typically are
used to boost the effective operation range of the tag. Active tags may also periodically transmit
a signal, much like a lighthouse beacon, with the data recorded whenever a reader is in range.
Encryption algorithms are used to ensure the security and integrity of the data passing between
the tag and reader.
Readers may be integrated into handheld computers, connected to them via a cable, or they
may be stationary and positioned at strategic points, such as a facility entrance or on an assembly
line. Readers include an antenna for sending and receiving signals and a processor for decoding
them. The collected data is then passed through normal interfaces, cabled or by wireless LAN,
to host computer systems.
Statement of Problem
RFID is a tracking and identification systems offer a variety of benefits for businesses,
consumers, and military organizations. Some of these benefits are in the area of security,
customer service, supply chain management, and inventory control. RFID enables organizations
to increase its efficiency, and accuracy by reducing the human element in its processes. This
leads to lower cost of products and services and then these lower costs can be passed on to
consumers. Although RFID technology offers many benefits and will have a profound impact on
society if used properly, but if not, RFID has the potential to jeopardize consumer privacy,
reduce or eliminate purchasing anonymity, and threaten civil liberties. The problem is how to
implement this technology to take advantage its many benefits, while at the same time protecting
consumers’ privacy, and civil liberties. This paper identifies some of the advantages, drawbacks,
security, and civil liberties issues of using RFID in both the civilian and military community.
The goal of this paper is to broaden ones individual knowledge of RFID and the security
implications of it use.
Need for the Study
The need for the study is to adequately examine the benefits of RFID and weigh those
benefits against the privacy and civil liberties concerns. Privacy advocates and some lawmakers
are pushing the debate of some potential privacy abuses from the growing use of RFID. There
are some privacy advocates that asked retailers not to force consumers to buy products with
RFID tags and also advocate that consumers should be able to remove or disable the tags. So,
businesses and the military need to know what is on the horizon to make an informed decision
about RFID, and consumers must understand how RFID implementation will affect their privacy.
Definition of the Terms
Active tag: An RFID tag that has a transmitter to send back information, rather than reflecting
back a signal from the reader.
Antenna: The tag antenna is the conductive element that enables the tag to send and receive
Backscatter: A method of communication between passive tags (ones that do not use batteries to
broadcast a signal) and readers.
Bar code: A standard method of identifying the manufacturer and product category of a
Battery-assisted tag: These are RFID tags with batteries, but they communicate using the same
backscatter technique as passive tags (tags with no battery).
Electronic Product Code: (EPC): A serial, created by the Auto-ID Center, that will
Frequency: The number of repetitions of a complete wave within one second. 1 Hz equals one
complete waveform in one second.
High-frequency: From 3 MHz to 30 MHz. HF RFID tags typically operate at 13.56 MHz. They
typically can be read from less than 3 feet away and transmit data faster than low-frequency tags.
But they consume more power than low-frequency tags.
Low-frequency: From 30 kHz to 300 kHz. Low-frequency tags typical operate at 125 kHz or
134 kHz. The main disadvantages of low-frequency tags are they have to be read from within
three feet and the rate of data transfer is slow. But they are less subject to interference than UHF
Modulation: Changing the radio waves traveling between the reader and the transponder in
ways that enable the transmission of information.
Passive tag: An RFID tag without a battery. When radio waves from the reader reach the chip’s
antenna, the energy is converted by the antenna into electricity that can power up the microchip
in the tag.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): A method of identifying unique items using radio
Reader (also called an interrogator): The reader communicates with the RFID tag via radio
waves and passes the information in digital form to a computer system.
RFID tag: A microchip attached to an antenna that is packaged in a way that it can be applied to
an object. The tag picks up signals from and sends signals to a reader.
Smart label: A generic term that usually refers to a barcode label that contains an RFID
transponder. It's considered "smart" because it can store information, such as a unique serial
number, and communicate with a reader.
Transponder: A radio transmitter-receiver that is activated when it receives a predetermined
Ultra-high frequency (UHF): From 300 MHz to 3 GHz. Typically, RFID tags that operate
between 866 MHz to 960 MHz. They can send information faster and farther than high and low
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
RFID is an emerging tracking and identification technology that is quickly becoming
common place in today’s commercial and military markets. It offers various benefits that help to
increase organization efficiency and decrease overall operating cost. RFID does this by utilizing
tagging systems for tracking purposes, which can be interrogated by radio waves sent from a
reader to determine supplies location. RFID tags can be affixed to numerous items, such as
cases, pallets, tools, equipment, clothing, etc. As RFID popularity continues to increase, there is
mounting concerns from the Civil Liberty Union and other privacy advocates groups about the
security and privacy of consumers who purchase items that are labeled with RFID tags.
What is RFID?
Radio frequency identification is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to
automatically identify individual items. Though there are various methods of identifying objects
using RFID, the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a product, and perhaps
other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna. RFID tags can be used just like
bar codes, to track numerous items in the supply chain. RFID does not require line of sight which
is a significant benefit over bar codes, which have to be in sight of a scanner to be read. Many
companies and military organizations are already benefiting from this wireless technology in
term of money and time when it is integrated into their supply chain.
Although RFID is thought of as new technology, however, it actually has been around for
sometime. The first application of RFID was during World War II, when it was used by the
British Air Force as a reliable method for distinguishing returning friendly planes from enemy
German bombers. Also, during the 1960s and 1970s, the Department of Energy and the United
States military used RFID as a mean of security to keep track of nuclear material. In the early
years of RFID existence, the private sector were lagging behind government agencies and did not
start using this technology until the early 1980s. However, throughout the nineties a number of
companies and applications were developed that rely heavily on RFID technology. Also during
the nineties, the United States military began to explore ways to use RFID technology to keep
better track of their assets, not just for security purposes, but also for logistical purposes as well.
Today, RFID is being used extensively as a reliable tracking method in both the private sector
and the military. This technology is also used in cars and key rings as a convenient ways to
purchase gasoline and a host of other items at some gas stations. Many states are starting to take
advantage of RFID technology by using it in their iPass system to charge road tolls automatically
without ever having to stop the cars.
Difference between RFID and Bar Code
It is important to understand the significant differences between RFID and bar code to
appreciate the benefits RFID can provide. Bar code and RFID are both identification
technologies that hold data that is accessed by some type of reader. In actuality, they
complement each other very well and can be used effectively side by side in many applications.
Bar code is an optical technology and RFID is a radio technology. The ways these technologies
exchange data account for most of the differences between RFID and bar code and help
determine where each identification technology is best put to use.
Since RFID is a radio technology and does not require line-of-sight between the reader and
the tag to exchange data, therefore tags can be read through packages, including cardboard
containers and plastic wrap used to seal pallets. However, RFID is subject to interference from
particularly from metal, so potential sources of interference must be recognized and accounted
for during system planning. Because no line-of-sight is required, tagged objects can be read
regardless of their orientation through the use of optimized RFID systems. Items do not have to
be placed label side up onto conveyors to be read, paving the way for unattended handling. If
workers are used to placing items on conveyors, they will be more productive if they do not have
to locate and align labels when handling objects.
RFID readers can automatically recognize and differentiate all the RF tags in their frequency
range. This simultaneous processing capability provides additional flexibility for material
handling, packaging and sorting operations, because there is no need to maintain spacing
between objects to ensure they will be read. Its ability to read dozens or even hundreds of tags
per second makes RFID ideal for high-speed sorting, receiving, cross docking, and other
applications. RFID tags data capacity enables them to carry all the same information as bar
codes and more. Just like bar code, RFID tags are available with different memory sizes and
Key Components of an RFID System
• A RFID tag consists of a chip attached to an antenna. RFID tags are developed using a
frequency according to the needs of the system including read-range and the environment
in which the tag will be read. Tags are either active, integrating a battery, or passive,
having no battery. Passive tags derive the power to operate from the electro-magnetic
field generated by the reader.
• A RFID reader, can be fixed or handheld, like a barcode scanner, and is usually linked to
a management information system or PC. The RFID reader handles the communication
between the information system and the RFID tag.
• A RFID antenna connected to the RFID reader can be of various size and structure,
depending on the communication distance required for a given system’s performance.
The antenna activates the RFID tag and transfers data by emitting wireless pulses.
• A RFID station is made up of a RFID reader and an antenna. It can read information
stored in the RFID tag and also update this RFID tag with new information. It generally
holds application software specifically designed for the required task. RFID stations may
be mounted in arrays around transfer points in industrial processes to automatically track
assets as they are moving through the process.
Figure 1. RFID Systems
Note: From Symbol Technology, (2004), Understanding the Key Issues in Radio Frequency
Figure 2. RFID Solution Overview
Note: From Symbol Technology, (2004), Understanding the Key Issues in Radio Frequency
Figure 3. Simplified Supply Chain
Note: From Symbol Technology, (2004), Understanding the Key Issues in Radio
Cost and Frequency Range
There are two types of RFID systems, passive and active. Active tags are battery powered in
order to transmit a signal to a reader, and are generally used for high-value goods that need to be
tracked over long ranges such as 300 feet or less. Active tags are more expensive than passive
tags, typically priced as much as $100 apiece.
Passive tags are not battery powered, but instead, draw power from electromagnetic waves
given off by a RFID reader. Most of the current passive tag and reader combinations have a
range of about 6 feet but this is likely to increase in the near future as the private sector work to
improve this existing technology. Passive tags generally cost as little as $0.40 each with prices
likely to drop as they become more common place.
Currently, passive tags are the main focus of the military logistics support; because they are
inexpensive and provide a practical method of labeling a large number of military assets. Also,
since passive tags do not require a battery, they work well for military items that may have an
extremely long shelf life and are expected to be inventoried indefinitely. These tags are so thin
they can fit into the width of a paper label. In fact, many applications call for these devices to be
embedded in a label to be placed on the package or asset.
The performance and memory characteristics for an application determine the correct RFID
technology that should be implemented. The following are the most common types of RFID tags
and their performance characteristics:
• Low Frequency –operate at 125 kHz with a typical maximum read range of 10
inches (254 mm). This frequency band provides a shorter read range (< 0.5m or
1.5 ft) and slower read speed than the higher frequencies. LF RFID systems have
the strongest ability to read tags on objects with high water or metal content
compared to any of the higher frequencies. LF tags are typically slightly more
expensive than HF or UHF tags. Typical low-frequency RFID applications are
access control, animal tracking, vehicle immobilizers, healthcare applications,
product authentication and various point-of-sale applications, such as
• High Frequency—operate at 13.56 MHz with a typical maximum read range of 3
feet (1 meter) and feature a greater read- range and higher-read speed than LF
systems. Also, the price of the tags is among the lowest of all RFID tags. Typical
read range is less than 1 meter (3 feet), and the ability to read tags on objects with
high water or metal content is not as good as LF systems but stronger than UHF
systems. Applications include smart cards and smart shelves for item level
tracking, and are also currently used to track library books, healthcare patients,
product authentication and airline baggage. Another common application is
maintenance data logging for sensitive equipment that needs regular checking
such as fire suppression systems.
• Ultra-High Frequency—operates at 433 MHz, 868 MHz, 915 MHz, or 2.45 GHz.
Read range is typically 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 meters), and the data transfer rate is
faster than HF systems. One drawback to UHF systems is a limited ability to read
tags on objects with or surrounded by high water or metal content. This is
typically the frequency recommended for distribution and logistics applications
and is the basis for the Electronic Product Code (EPC) standard driven through
the Auto-ID Center. Of course, the EPC standard is the focus of DoD and Wal-
Mart. The primary rationale for utilizing this frequency in the supply chain is the
greater read range it offers over the other frequency ranges. However, UHF is also
widely used for electronic toll collection systems on highways, manufacturing
applications and parking lot access based on the greater range provided by the
Current Uses of RFID
RFID is a well-established technology for purposes such as access control and security;
however, identification and tracking is rapidly emerging as key uses of RFID where the need for
accurate, rapid, and reliable data collection is essential.
One of the most important features of RFID is that it allows the electronic capture of data and
the transmission of data from readers to computers, from computers to network systems, and can
be added to existing information and data systems. This means that RFID can not only replace
expensive, and potentially unreliable paper systems but can also be used for activities that would
be impossible or uneconomic to carryout with paper based systems. Listed below are some of
the current and potential uses of RFID:
• Animal identification
• Asset tracking
• Container tracking
• Customer or loyalty cards
• Electrical equipment such as transformers
• Fare collection using smart label tags
• Gas cylinder tracking
• Harsh/difficult environment usage
• Hazardous materials handling or ID
• Inventory control for either raw materials or finished products
• Laundry/textile identification
• Luggage tagging
• Manufacturing processes
• Meat packing
• Product identification
• Restaurant order control and processing
• Scales and weighing
• Service and maintenance systems
• Time and attendance
• Tool or equipment ID
• Vehicle identification including parking control
Commercial Uses of RFID
There are many commercial uses of RFID being developed and already in the market place.
However, one of the most popular uses of RFID is the Mobil’s Speedpass payment system. This
system allows users to quickly pay for gas at the pump or register, by simply waving their RFID
card in front a RFID reader. The RFID reader interrogates the Mobil’s database, which includes
the user’s credit card number and an associated unique ID number embedded into his or her
RFID card, to make the appropriate charges. Also, there are several public transit systems that
have begun issuing payment cards embedded with RFID technology. Periodically, commuters
add money to their payment cards by using a kiosk or direct deposit. These cards, once swiped
in the subway turnstiles, let commuters through and automatically deduct the transit fare from
their accounts. Like the RFID cards used for the Mobil’s Speedpass payment system, they also
have an associated unique ID number that identifies the owner of that card.
The airlines industry is beginning to utilize RFID technology to track passengers’ bags, with
Delta Air Lines leading the way in this venture. The airlines’ current tracking systems rely
heavily on barcodes affixed to bags with adhesive labels, which must be manually scanned. This
method is very slow, unreliable, and requires a vast number of employees to accomplish that
task. Delta is currently testing a system that would embed RFID tags in the printed labels to
allow baggage tracking using RFID readers placed at strategic points, including luggage
carousels. Today, if a passenger bag is misdirected, airlines struggle to identify the specific lost
bag, which might have been sent anywhere in the country. By using RFID, Delta hopes to be
able to pinpoint a bag’s location and automatically send a wireless message to a staff person in a
position to pull the bag and send it to its proper destination.
The one use of RFID that has really captured the attention of corporate America and privacy
activists is the replacement of barcodes on consumer goods with RFID tags. These tags will
allow companies to streamline their entire supply chain from manufacturing to distribution to
retailer. This will help to reduce companies’ warehouse costs by getting automatic updates
constantly concerning their inventory levels. Suppliers will benefit from this technology by
having a method that allows better tracking of their returnable assets such as pallets and
containers. RFID technology also promises to help manufacturers and retailers prevent backshop
theft, which is estimated to cost companies billions of dollars each year. The ability to identify
whole shipments of goods automatically upon arrival at a loading dock could significantly
reduce labor cost.
Retailers also expect RFID to result in greater customer satisfaction by using smart shelves
that keep track of their stocked level and send automatic messages to the storeroom when an item
level has dropped to a certain threshold; thereby ensuring customers always find shelves full. If
this information is shared with suppliers, they will be better able to match supply to demand and
reduce inventory sellouts. Also, consumer products that are tagged with unique identifying
numbers at the item level could enable returns without a receipt, as well as the much-touted self-
checkout. Unique identification could also reduce waste during product recalls by pinpointing
the few defective items rather than sacrificing a whole batch.
Military Uses of RFID
The military quickly recognized the potential benefits of RFID and has spent nearly $100
million over the last decade implementing this technology to track everything from rations to
uniforms to tanks. Its ultimate goal is to prevent frontline troops from suffering supply shortages,
as well as reducing the amount of lost, misplaced, and unused supplies. The military main focus
used to be on active RFID tags that are used to track vehicles, cargo containers, and other large
and valuable assets from long distances. However, lately its focus has shifted away from active
tags to passive tags.
Currently, passive tags are the main focus for military logistics support; because they are
inexpensive and provide a practical method of labeling a large number of military assets. Also,
since passive tags do not require a battery, they work well for military items that may have an
extremely long shelf life and are expected to be inventoried indefinitely. These tags are so thin
they can fit into the width of a paper label. In fact, many applications call for these devices to be
embedded in a label to be placed on the package or asset.
Department of Defense (DoD) Mandate
In October 2003, DoD mandated the use of RFID for its defense logistics and the broader
supply chain. Suppliers were given a little more than a year to begin attaching RFID tags to
virtually all products delivered to the military. It mandated that these tags must be attached to
individual pieces, case, or pallet by January 2005, with the only exception being for bulk goods
such as sand, gravel or liquids.
The main reason why DoD mandated the use of RFID technology is because it was used
during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and the military achieved major gains
in efficiency in moving needed goods to the front lines and avoiding the massive back-ups that
plagued the supply chain during the 1991 Gulf War. During the Gulf War, there were thousands
of containers of supplies shipped to Kuwait, but were never received by the military component
that needed it. After the war ended, there were thousands of these containers left stacked in the
desert because nobody knew what was inside them. DoD realized that it can not afford these
type of inefficiencies, especially with the increasing mobile nature of today’s military.
DoD believes that implementing RFID will minimize time spent through the normal means of
inventory processing, which will improve data quality, items management, asset visibility and
maintenance of materiel. Also, it will enable DoD to improve business functions and facilitate
all aspects of the DoD supply chain.
DoD policy currently requires the use of passive RFID tags, as opposed to the active tags that
have been used by the military for more than a decade. Although active tags have considerably
greater transmission capabilities, with a range of about 300 feet, compared with about 10 feet for
the passive tags, the difference in cost is significant. Passive tags cost less than $1 each, while
active units are priced at about $100 apiece. While cost is the greatest limitation to using RFID
technology, there are other hurdles that the military must overcome, such as equipment and
training costs, information system compatibility, operational locations, and distances, security,
and timeliness. Although the policy specifically mentions passive tags, DoD says that military
logisticians will continue to evaluate both types of tags to determine their ideal uses.
Benefits of RFID
RFID-based systems provide efficiency and accuracy similar to those of printed bar code
systems; however, they offer additional benefits such as:
• RFID supports read/write operation. RFID's real-time characteristic enables
efficient updating of information contained within the tag as an item moves from
one point to another. For example, a tag on a delivery truck can contain the truck's
manifest, which can be updated easily as the driver adds and removes items.
• RFID is not limited to contact operation. RFID tags can be read through
nonmetallic materials, and a reader does not have to touch a tag, making RFID
ideal for cluttered, dirty, wet, and harsh environments. Unlike bar code scanners,
RFID scanners can read tags through mud, dirt, paint, grease, wood, cement,
plastic, water, and steam.
• RFID tags can be hidden. Because RFID is not limited to line-of-sight operation,
you can embed tags under skin, inside clothes hems, and within the pages of a
book, preserving the item's usability and aesthetics.
• RFID tags are very secure. RFID tags are virtually impossible to counterfeit,
because an unalterable permanent serial code prevents tampering. This guard
against an unauthorized user changing data corresponding to a particular item.
• RFID tags are read at a faster speed. The time it takes for an RFID reader to
activate the tag and receive the associated information stored in the tag is
approximately 40 percent faster than scanning traditional printed bar codes.
• Multiple RFID labels can be read at one time, speeding up the data collection
process. A scanner can read each tag independently when mixed in a pile,
distinguishing among multiple items based on each one's unique identification
Commercial Benefits of RFID
• Lowering Costs – According to the US National Retail Security Survey,
approximately $5.8 billion worth of inventory was lost in 2001 due to
administrative errors alone. RFID not only ensures accuracy of information, but
also limits the amount of error-prone human interaction that is needed. With
information that is updated in real-time, RFID can further reduce costs by
allowing companies to decrease shrinkage.
• Increasing Revenue – With U.S. retailers losing approximately 3.8% of sales per
year as a result of out-of-stock inventory, greater inventory control and increased
product availability can have a major impact on increasing revenues. RFID tags
allow companies to capture and track a variety of data on goods. This
information aids in the development of accurate inventory forecasts.
• Decreasing Working Capital – Because of the speed and accuracy of RFID,
orders can be filled in a shorter amount of time, allowing for quicker product
availability. Reducing this order cycle time decreases the need for an abundance
of safety stock.
• Reducing Fixed Capital – With RFID, companies can better manage fixed
capital by tracking assets such as totes and pallets. This reduces the need for
replacement due to lost items and cuts back on the amount of redundant
equipment that are under utilized. Additionally, by increasing the speed at which
a forklift can perform a certain task, the same amount of work can be completed
with fewer vehicles, further reducing the costs of these fixed assets.
Drawbacks of RFID
The primary problem facing RFID tagging is the fragility of the tiny chips and antennas,
because any damage to the chip makes the tag unusable. The process of assembling, printing and
applying the label containing the tag alone presents the potential for damage, not only physical
damage, but also the generation of static discharge that can corrupt the information on the chip or
make it unreadable. This is why virtually every print-and-apply system for RFID labeling
involves a verification step to reject tags that are defective coming into the print cycle and
verifying the success of the encoding after.
Potential Trouble with RFID
Privacy and consumer organizations have called for manufacturers to voluntarily hold off on
their plans to equip consumer goods with RFID devices, because of fear of misuse. They are
worried that instead of using RFID tags to track boots, blue jeans and books, these tags will be
used to track customers.
Although RFID is not a household word today, but within the next few years manufacturers
hope to put it into many household products. Gillette plans to put the tags into packages of its
razors and blades so that its high-value consumer goods can be tracked as they move from the
factory through distribution and eventually to the store shelf. Benetton had announced similar
plans to weave RFID tags into its designer clothes; however, the company reversed itself after a
grassroots consumer group launched a worldwide boycott of Benetton products.
Both Wal-Mart and the military told their hundred largest suppliers that cartons and pallets
must be equipped with unique RFID tags by January 2005. Meanwhile, MasterCard and
American Express have been testing RFID-enabled credit cards. Mobil has been pushing its
RFID-based Speedpass since 1997. And most high-end cars now come with RFID immobilizer
circuits that will not let the cars start unless the correct RFID-enabled car key is in the ignition.
This wireless technology has the potential of saving businesses billions of dollars.
So why did the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The
World Privacy Forum and a dozen other organizations ask for a voluntary moratorium on RFID
technology in consumer goods? Because the use of RFID could enable an omnipresent police
surveillance state, it could erode further what is left of consumer privacy and make identity theft
even easier than it has already become.
RFID is considered by many to be a potentially dangerous technology because its chips can
be embedded into products and clothing and covertly read without consumers’ knowledge. A
small tag embedded into the heel of a shoe or the inseam of a leather jacket for inventory control
could be activated every time the customer entered or left the store where the item was bought;
that tag could also be read by any other business or government agency that has installed a
compatible reader. Unlike today's antitheft tags, every RFID chip has a unique serial number,
which can be used by stores to easily track each customer's comings and goings. RFID readers
could also register the RFID tags that customers’ carry their car keys and proximity cards that
some office buildings use instead of keys.
The problem here is that RFID tags can be read through your wallet, handbag, or clothing. It's
not hard to build a system that automatically reads the proximity cards, the keychain RFID
immobilizer chips, or other RFID-enabled devices of every person who enters a store. A store
could build a list of every window shopper or person who walks through the front door by
reading these tags and then looking up their owners' identities in a centralized database. No such
database exists today, but one could easily be built.
Despite these fears, the privacy activists aren't saying that RFID technology should be
abandoned. As it is, the technology is already in broad use currently for the tracking of
pharmaceuticals (and the elimination of dangerous drug counterfeits), for tracking shipments of
meat (so that contaminated batches can be rapidly identified and destroyed) and even for tracking
manufactured goods to deter theft and assist in inventory control. However, this technology
should never be used to secretly unmask the identity of people who wish to remain anonymous.
Civil Liberty Concerns
RFID is an item-tagging technology with profound societal implications. If used improperly,
it has the potential to jeopardize consumer privacy, reduce or eliminate purchasing anonymity,
and threaten civil liberties. While there are beneficial uses of RFID, some attributes of the
technology could be deployed in ways that threaten privacy and civil liberties. This has
generated such a privacy concern, which has directly lead to legislative proposals in six states to
limit RFID use. The concern for privacy is mainly centered around individuals not knowing they
have been associated with a RFID tag or who is gathering information about them and for what
purpose. Listed below are some ways that information might be gathered on individuals without
• Hidden placement of tags. RFID tags can be embedded into/onto objects and
documents without the knowledge of the individual who obtains those items. As radio
waves travel easily and silently through fabric, plastic, and other materials, it is possible
to read RFID tags sewn into clothing or affixed to objects contained in purses, shopping
bags, suitcases, and more.
• Unique identifiers for all objects worldwide. The Electronic Product Code potentially
enables every object on earth to have its own unique ID. The use of unique ID numbers
could lead to the creation of a global item registration system in which every physical
object is identified and linked to its purchaser or owner at the point of sale or transfer.
• Massive data aggregation. RFID deployment requires the creation of massive databases
containing unique tag data. These records could be linked with personal identifying data,
especially as computer memory and processing capacities expand.
• Hidden readers. Tags can be read from a distance, not restricted to line of sight, by
readers that can be incorporated invisibly into nearly any environment where human
beings or items congregate. RFID readers have already been experimentally embedded
into floor tiles, woven into carpeting and floor mats, hidden in doorways, and seamlessly
incorporated into retail shelving and counters, making it virtually impossible for a
consumer to know when or if he or she was being scanned.
• Individual tracking and profiling. If personal identity were linked with unique RFID
tag numbers, individuals could be profiled and tracked without their knowledge or
consent. For example, a tag embedded in a shoe could serve as a de facto identifier for
the person wearing it. Even if item-level information remains generic, identifying items
people wear or carry could associate them with, for example, particular events like
Opponents of RFID tags have proposed measures to side-step the chips' relentless
information-gathering, ranging from disabling the tags by crushing or puncturing them, to simply
boycotting the products of companies which use or plan to implement RFID technology. One
way to destroy the tags is to microwave them for several seconds. Another method is to obstruct
the information gathered by RFID readers by using blocker tags. When carried by a consumer,
blocker tags impair readers by simulating many ordinary RFID tags simultaneously. Blocker tags
can also block selectively by simulating only designated ID codes, such as those issued by a
In an attempt to ease consumers' fears, companies have argued that most items tagged with
RFID chips can't be tracked beyond an operating distance of about five feet. However, while this
may be true today, industry experts say plans for building far more sensitive RFID signal
receivers are in the works.
As RFID technology becomes more advanced, consumers may ultimately lose all ability to
evade products implanted with chips. Corning researchers have developed tiny, bar coded beads
that are invisible to the human eye. The microscopic beads can be embedded in inks to tag
currency and other documents, and even attached to DNA molecules. They can also be added to
substances like automobile paint, explosives, or other products that law enforcement officers or
retailers have a strong interest in tracking. Researchers say the technology could be ready for
commercial use in three to six years.
Future Commercial Uses of RFID
Currently, RFID technology is still too expensive to be used by most retailers. The cost per
electronic tag now stands at about 30 cents apiece, but is expected to fall to as little as three cents
in the next three years. RFID tags will probably not become pervasive until the per chip cost dips
below one penny. Retailers will still have to purchase sensors to read the tags, which can cost
In spite of the costs, some retailers are willing to pay the price for the insight RFID tags
provide into the lives of consumers. Over the next few years, industry experts expect to see a
broad range of RFID pilots, and even several fully integrated systems, launched. A handful of
corporations have already signed on, and are moving ahead with plans to embed products with
RFID tags. Recently, Microsoft Corporation announced that it would develop software that will
enable retailers, manufacturers, and distributors to use RFID tags to track goods within stores
and factories, as well as programs specifically designed to use the new retail tagging technology.
Future Military Uses of RFID
The military outlook for future use of RFID is to integrate it with satellite communications to
resolve problems with its current fixed systems. There are numerous advantages to this proposed
implementation, the first, and most obvious, is the global coverage capability offered by the
satellite technology. This will enable them to cover the Polar Regions and close all gaps in areas
currently over the oceans. Other advantages of integrating RFID and satellite communications,
according to the Logistics Transformation Agency (LTA), include the following:
• Independence from foreign/local infrastructure
• Larger data capability
• Worldwide frequency approval
• Single point connectivity with the Defense Information System Network
• Protection of sensitive information such as location and user identity
• DOD-controlled access and an electronic intercept system for further data
However, the LTA cited the following challenges associated with integrating RFID and
• Need to improve RFID devices for satellite communications
• Need to update RFID technology already in use
• Need to shift RFID requirements to a more mobile design to match combatant
commander requirements in the area of operation
The LTA noted the continuous need to research, analyze and evaluate commercially proven
satellite communications technology and RFID integration, as well as issues of interoperability,
cost, global coverage, technical constraints, in-transit visibility connectivity, and satellite
providers. Actually, the technologies for integration of RFID and satellite communications
currently exist. The DOD’s push for improved asset visibility will continue until global success
is achieved. The challenge will be to train logistics personnel on how they impact the DOD’s
total asset visibility and in-transit visibility capabilities.
Another future use of RFID that all branches of the military are exploring is the idea of
embedding an RFID tag in dog tags as a way to track individuals on the battle field. This will be
a very reliable method to locate captured or lost soldiers. There is also a plan to use these high
tech dog tags to track exposure to chemicals, radiation, biological agents, or other harmful
environments. Many of the environments a soldier might encounter may not have an acute
physical effect but might instead lead to chronic problems later in life after a prolonged
exposure. A tag that could be used to provide a warning to a commander in the field may give
them time to rotate soldiers out of harms way, thereby decreasing the possibility of future illness.
Also the military is looking at RFID as a way to prevent friendly fire accidents. The Air
Force is currently using active transponders to identify friendly aircraft by radar. It is possible
other branches of the armed forces might someday use active RFID to identify soldiers on the
ground. As of December 3, 2004, there were 241 US Soldiers listed as killed in action in Iraq
due to accidents or friendly fire. Although there will always be some friendly fire casualties in
any war but it is likely many of these incidents could have been prevented if the victims were
wearing some type of active radio identifier tag.
Military Lessons Learned
There were many lessons learned from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi
Freedom which indicate that RFID tags are an underused resource within the continental United
States (CONUS) and in the combatant commanders’ areas of responsibility. It was concluded
that there are several reasons for the lack of utilization of the RFID technology:
• Many users are not aware of the capabilities of RFID technology.
• Combatant commanders have not required use of RFID technology. In fact, until
Operation Iraqi Freedom, none of the nine combatant commanders had mandated
use of RFID tags.
• The army does not always practice in peace what it will be called on to do in war.
RFID tags normally are not used during training; RFID has not been instituted in
CONUS as part of the distribution system for sustainment cargo; and the Army
Forces Command has not required RFID use of unit moves except on a case-by-
• The tags may fail. This usually occurs because a tag has fallen off a pallet or has
been damaged or because the battery in the tag has died.
• The tags are not visible in the in-transit visibility (ITV) server. This occurs when
there is no interrogator at a location to scan the tags and put information into the
system or when the interrogator has failed because of a loss of power, lack of
connectivity, or mechanical failure.
RFID was not created for ITV, nor does it provide a great deal of usable ITV data at present.
RFID can tell you only where the cargo was last interrogated, but not where it is currently
located. In order to have current location data, RFID must be integrated with other personnel and
cargo systems. The military has yet to complete this integration at this point; however the pilot
project to accomplish this seamless integration is in full swing.
Summary of the Literature
The literature review shows that RFID is revolutionizing the methods used by commercial
businesses and military organizations to track and identify merchandize. It offers remarkable
benefits in supply chain management and inventory control, which directly result in reduce
product and labor cost. RFID is similar to bar code, whereby they both are identification
technologies that hold data that is eventually interrogated by a reader. However, RFID offers
distinct advantages over bar code because it does require light-of-sight between a reader to
exchange data and its ability to recognize and differentiate between frequency ranges. Although
RFID is not a household word among the general public; however, its popularity continues to
grow with businesses and military organizations because of its profound potential to increase
organizations’ efficiency. RFID is currently used to track all source of products and services
from large pallets to individual clothing items. There is an abundance of on-going research to
expand the use of RFID into other areas in the near future. Despite all of the benefits gained
from the use of RFID, there are some privacy and security concerns. The Civil Liberty Union
has called for a moratorium on the use of RFID due to privacy issues. It is concern that RFID
could be used improperly to track not only what a consumer purchase, but also track an
individual movement without their knowledge. There are debates in Congress on what to due to
ensure individuals’ privacy is protected; however, Congress has yet to enact any legislation.
Design, Participants, and Procedures
The research method used to gather information concerning the RFID is from the Air Force
Certificate to Operate documents and the Internet. Information from various websites was
compared to determine the consistency of the written articles. The validity of the articles on the
military aspect of RFID was compared against government documentation on the same subject.
My research begin by taking a look at the history of RFID and then stepping through major
events that had a profound implications on improvement of RFID.
The following assumptions are made concerning RFID
• When the price of RFID drops from around 40 cents to cents there will be host of
new businesses implementing this technology.
• The global supply chain security and efficiency is will prosper once an
international standard frequency developed, to reduce interference among devices.
• Security and privacy concerns will decrease once the public is educated on RFID.
• There is going to be strict legislation on the proper use of RFID.
Although RFID offers many benefits, there are several limitations associated with the
technology that should be thoroughly evaluated before making a final decision to implement
RFID tags or not:
• Cost: RFID tags will always be more expensive than barcodes; however they
often deliver more benefits in most applications than barcodes.
• Moisture: Depending on the technology used, radio waves may be absorbed by
moisture in the product or the environment.
• Metal: Radio waves are generally reflected by metal. This means that tags can
be hidden by metal in the environment or their signal may be attenuated.
• Electrical Interference: Electronic noise, such as fluorescent light or electric
motors, can sometimes interfere with radio frequency communications.
• Accuracy: It can be difficult to identify and read a specific tag from all the others
that are within the range of a reader. For example when reading the tag on a
pallet the reader may also read the tags on all the packs on the pallet too. Failure
to read a tag is not picked up by the reader.
• Over Compensation: Storing a lot of data on a tag may be useful, however this
will increase both the cost of the tag and the time required to read it. Often, a
simple identity number is sufficient.
• Security: Being able to update the tag is useful, but ensuring that the update has
been done correctly and by an authorized party is important.
Results, Analysis and Discussion
The number of applications of RFID is steadily increasing, thereby creating the need for
additional electronic data management requirements. This is evident by businesses and the
military constantly exploring more advanced uses of RFID. Some tire manufacturers are
embedding RFID to try to accurately predict the time to failure of tires. Pharmaceutical
companies are using this technology to track medications and decrease the possibility of theft.
Airlines are considering using RFID to optimize their aircraft maintenance and the turnaround
time of airplanes at the gates. Starbucks is considering using RFID to enable its suppliers to
make after-hours deliveries to stores to avoid disrupting their staff’s key function of selling
These capabilities will require a host of different systems generating an abundance of data
sets. There will be different data set because of the various systems that are used and the type of
information that is being track by a particular system. For example, some systems might be
tracking price and quantity while others are tracking weight and size. These differences can
create significant problems whenever an organization attempts to analyze a product or service
performance. In fact, the amount of data RFID will generate is going to be difficulty for most
organizations to store it, let alone analyze it. This is going to create a need to develop a
centralized system that can lump different data together to apply business intelligence tools and
analytics to obtain more detailed information and insight into trends such as stock visibility,
return management, product assortment performance and promotion campaign effectiveness,
among other uses.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
RFID is the technology that has the potential to revolutionize the private sector and the
military logistics support. It represents a significant step up from the traditional bar code
technology and offers a highly reliable and accurate method of data capture without manual
intervention. Organizations that successfully implement RFID technology will reap the benefits
of increased efficiency and decrease costs in their daily operations. The benefits that RFID offers
will not be realized unless technological hurdles can be overcome. These hurdles are the
standards for capturing and exchanging RFID information, which is constantly being drafted and
redefined daily. The lack of standards is hampering the effort of widespread adoption of RFID.
Many organizations are merging RFID with their existing bar code system to create a hybrid
legacy system to get the best benefits that each technology has to offer.
Organizations must realize that RFID automates data capture, but it is only by integrating that
data capture process into core business processes and business systems that real improvements in
efficiency, cost reduction and enhancements to customer relationships can be achieved.
Organizations need to take a strategic look at the development of an information management
structure that exploits the availability of real-time, accurate information and amend and develop
business applications that drive business improvements. Once widespread adoption and
standards are instituted for RFID, the price of the tags is expected to decrease and eventually will
be low enough to apply the technology for item level tagging. If the price of RFID tags drops to
a few cents, new market opportunities will open up, especially in sectors such as apparel,
delivery, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals.
RFID is moving closer everyday toward widespread adoption, as evident by the US
Department of Defense requires their suppliers to ship products with RFID tags from 2005
onwards. It has been predicted that by 2010, RFID should be commonplace throughout
industries. This prediction has generated major concerns for privacy from the Civil Liberty
Union and other privacy abdicate groups. RFID, like many other data tracking technologies,
commonly elicit privacy concerns. These concerns should be investigated thoroughly; however,
until those fears are proven sound, legislators and regulators should resist constraining the use of
RFID technology. Otherwise, they risk distorting or aborting what could be one of the most
beneficial developments in quite sometime.
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