The Machine-Readable Zone (MRZ) of an identity document is something that most people take little to no notice of when they hand their passport or other official ID document over for verification.

During the 1980s, the identity page of the world’s main travel document – the passport – was overhauled with the addition of two lines of seemingly randomised letters, numbers and symbols.

These lines of code are the “Machine-Readable Zone” are crucial to the robustness of the ID document. Look closely and you’ll see that they contain the same information about the passport owner as is shown on the rest of the identity page. The difference is that the MRZ is designed to be read by a machine.

Passports and official ID documents like national ID cards and Driver’s Licenses have to be formatted in a way that allows for standard verification by different entities. Passports in particular have to be recognized correctly by all modern airports in the world, and this means that the content and structure of the identity page has to be consistent. To ensure they are standardized, they comprise of two parts – the Visual Inspection Zone (VIZ), and the Machine-Readable Zone (MRZ).

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