A card reader is a data input device that reads data from a card-shaped storage medium. The first were punched card readers, which read the paper or cardboard punched cards that were used during the first several decades of the computer industry to store information and programs for computer systems. Modern card readers are electronic devices that can read plastic cards embedded with either a barcode, magnetic strip, computer chip or another storage medium.

There are several forms of biometric identification employed in access control: fingerprint, hand geometry, iris, Voice Recognition, and facial recognition. Biometric technology has been promoted for its ability to significantly increase the security level of systems. Proponents claim that the technology eliminates such problems as lost, stolen or loaned ID cards and forgotten PINs.[citation needed]
A contactless smart card uses the same radio-based technology as the proximity card, with the exception of the frequency band used: it uses a higher frequency (13.56 MHz instead of 125 kHz), which allows the transfer of more data, and communication with several cards at the same time. A contactless card does not have to touch the reader or even be taken out of a wallet or purse. Most access control systems only read serial numbers of contactless smart cards and do not utilize the available memory. Card memory may be used for storing biometric data (i.e. fingerprint template) of a user. In such case a biometric reader first reads the template on the card and then compares it to the finger (hand, eye, etc.) presented by the user. In this way biometric data of users does not have to be distributed and stored in the memory of controllers or readers, which simplifies the system and reduces memory requirements.
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There are two types of smart cards: contact and contactless. Both have an embedded microprocessor and memory. The smart card differs from the proximity card in that the microchip in the proximity card has only one function: to provide the reader with the card's identification number. The processor on the smart card has an embedded operating system and can handle multiple applications such as a cash card, a pre-paid membership card, or an access control card.