Understanding: Machine Readable Zone

Understanding: Machine Readable Zone

Wondering what is a machine-readable zone (MRZ)? Do you want to know its role in identity verification? If the answer to these questions is YES, read this blog until the end.

Gabija Stankevičiūtė

MRZ, or Machine Readable Zone, is a particular area in an identity document (passport specifically) that encloses the document holder’s personal data. Nowadays, almost every country’s official identity or travel documents have MRZ, containing confidential information encoded. Generally, MRZ has two or three lines with printed Optical character recognition (OCR) font text.

The MRZ-based documents are referred to as machine-readable documents because only a machine can read the texts they contain.

📝 Key facts to remember:

  • The MRZ typically contains two or three lines of alphanumeric characters.
  • MRZ technology enables fast and accurate data capture and identity verification.
  • MRZ includes built-in security features, such as checksums, to prevent tampering and counterfeiting.
  • Estimates show that over 120 countries have implemented MRZ in their passports.

But why is MRZ so special? In this blog post, discover the inner workings of MRZ technology, explore the different types of MRZs at your disposal, and learn more about the essence of identity verification.

The History of Machine Readable Documents

The year 1980 was the first time a machine-readable zone was added to the passport’s identity page. Today, along with the photo and necessary details (full name, date of birth, passport number, passport expiration date, etc.) of the passport holder, the identity page also included two lines containing some letters, numbers, and symbols known as the MRZ line.

In 1983, the U.S. government accountability office emphasized the benefits of machine-readable information. And gradually, the use of MRZ has become more popular. Apart from travel documents, today, it has been used in national identity documents. Though unique optical character recognition equipment is required to read the information embedded in MRZ. Nowadays, it can be accessed using a smartphone – thanks to the ever-increasing technology!

How Machines Read MRZ Code

A machine-readable zone contains encoded machine-readable lines/codes that include the document holder’s data and forgery detection numbers known as “checksum”.

As mentioned above, a special reading device detects MRZ and reads the information encoded inside. For travel documents such as passports, text recognition and conversion technology (OCR system) is used to read MRZ data and verify it.

See the following image to recognize the machine readable zone in a passport:

Machine Readable Zone Highlighted

To access the data from MRZ, encoded data is obtained by scanning and then saved in electronic format. There are a few stages this process goes through:

1. Data Scanning

In this stage, the picture of the ID document is scanned.

2. Extracting Data from a Machine Readable Zone

Once the ID document is scanned and the machine-readable zone is captured, the embedded text is recognized and parsed to extract the data fields. An optical character recognition (OCR) system provides the calculation of the checksum of the extracted data. After that, the calculated checksums are compared with the original checksums for data verification. This data can also be exported to an external device for further inspection and verification.

What’s the Purpose of MRZ?

It’s not difficult for fraudsters to tamper with identity documents and manipulate the holder’s personal information for their purpose in modern times. We have often heard the news of fake passport gangs in Europe and across the globe engaged in forging documents. 

A machine-readable zone in a passport and other identity documents is a significant step to prevent unauthorized alteration in the IDs. Furthermore, it is an ideal way to speed up the verification process.

With MRZ, you get the personal information of a holder in a standardized format that naturally improves the recognition and verification process.

The machine-readable zone allows you to access a Radio-frequency identification (RFID) placed inside a biometric passport. The chip encloses detailed information about the ID holder. This process is several times faster than the manual method. Moreover, the chances of errors are negligible.

Types of Machine Readable Zones

When it comes to MRZ types, generally, three types are popular for identity documents. These types are categorized as MRZ 1, MRZ 2, and MRZ 3. For passports, Type 3 is used while for other ID. documents. Type 1 is the most popular, and Type 2 is not commonly used.

The types are based on the lines and characters available in MRZ. For example, the Type 3 MRZ contains two lines with 44 characters in each. The Type 2 MRZ consists of two lines of 36 characters long. Similarly, the Type 1 machine-readable zone has three lines, and each line has 30 characters.

Type 3 MRZ comprises information like nationality, passport number, date of birth, sex, and passport expiration date, while in Type 1, letters A-Z and numbers 0 to 9 are included.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standard, machine-readable zones include:

Machine Readable Zone Explanation

No matter what type of MRZ it is, it should comply with Doc 9303.

The Role of MRZ in Identity Verification

The role of MRZ in identity verification can’t be ignored. Nowadays, most passports and national ID documents have machine-readable zones, making it easier for responsible authorities to recognize and verify them.

Since passport verification is a standard procedure during a background check, MRZ-enabled passports have been proven useful in verifying suspected identities. After all, the machine-readable zone contains almost all the crucial detail of a person, such as a name, nationality, date of birth, sex, passport expiration date, etc.

Don’t forget that passport checks and identity verification are crucial security measures across various sectors, including airlines, hospitality, telecommunications, sharing economy, and entertainment. Today, users are required to submit their ID as a prerequisite for accessing these services.

MRZ-based ID documents are helping businesses conduct verification quite quickly. However, to take maximum advantage of MRZ, there must be a robust MRZ recognition technology that can make the verification process fast and super effective.

At iDenfy, we offer identity verification solutions that employ optical recognition systems to scan the passport and other identity documents. It makes the overall identity verification process smooth and effective. With our identity verification solution, you can verify 2 700 types of ID documents from more than 210 countries and territories.

If you’re searching for a reliable identity verification partner, try our free demo and get started today.

Understanding: Machine Readable Zone Infographic