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. 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 […]

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.

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 the OCR (Optical character recognition) font text printed.

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

In this post, we will come to know about how MRZ works. What types of MRZs are available and their role in identity verification. However, before that, let’s take a quick look at the history of MRZ.

History of Machine Readable Document

In 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 MRZ line.

In 1983, the U.S. government accountability office started to emphasize 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 Machine Reads 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 is used to detect MRZ and read 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:

Example of a passport with the 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:

Data Scanning

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

Extracting data from a Machine Readable zone

Once the I.D. document is scanned, and the machine-readable zone is captured from it, 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. Many times we have 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 an RFID (Radio-frequency identification) 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.

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

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standard machine-readable zones include:

An example of a passport with a machine-readable zone explanation on the side of it.

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 proved 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 constitute a significant security measure for businesses and organizations. No matter whether it’s an airline sector, hospitality, telecommunication, sharing economy, or entertainment, today, users have to submit their ID before accessing the 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 in search of a reliable identity verification partner, give us a try.

To know more about us and our services, you can book a meeting.

Infographic summarising the article above

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