You've probably seen RFID tags like these inserted into the packaging of DVDs and other consumer products.

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Long checkout lines at the grocery store are one of the biggest complaints about the shopping experience. Soon, these lines could disappear when the ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) bar code is replaced by smart labels, also called radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID tags are intelligent bar codes that can talk to a networked system to track every product that you put in your shopping cart.

Imagine going to the grocery store, filling up your cart and walking right out the door. No longer will you have to wait as someone rings up each item in your cart one at a time. Instead, these RFID tags will communicate with an electronic reader that will detect every item in the cart and ring each up almost instantly. The reader will be connected to a large network that will send information on your products to the retailer and product manufacturers. Your bank will then be notified and the amount of the bill will be deducted from your account. No lines, no waiting.

RFID tags, a technology once limited to tracking cattle, are tracking consumer products worldwide. Many manufacturers use the tags to track the location of each product they make from the time it's made until it's pulled off the shelf and tossed in a shopping cart.

Outside the realm of retail merchandise, RFID tags are tracking vehicles, airline passengers, Alzheimer's patients and pets. Soon, they may even track your preference for chunky or creamy peanut butter. Some critics say RFID technology is becoming too much a part of our lives -- that is, if we're even aware of all the parts of our lives that it affects.

In this article, you'll learn about the types of RFID tags and how these tags can be tracked through the entire supply chain. We'll also look at the noncommercial uses of RFID tags and how the Departments of State and Homeland Security are using them. Lastly, we'll examine what some critics consider an Orwellian application of RFID tags in animals, humans and our society.