A Russian biometric international travel passport – how it works

Jul 13, 2020Blog

A modern travel passport is not just a booklet with a photo of the owner issued for international travel, but rather a complex device that embodies all the most breakthrough achievements in various areas of science and technology.

The main passport function is to confirm the owner’s identity quickly, reliably and safely, it means to identify the person when he/she presents him/herself at the border and customs control or boards international flights at the airport, railway or bus station. The word passport has a very interesting origin which is correlated with a border pass process, it was derived from two Italian words “passare” (to pass) and “porto” (a port), which originally meant a written permission to enter the port. An international travel document is required in order to ease communication between a fellow citizen or a traveller and representatives of local government agencies, migration services, police officers and medical professionals/health care workers when they are abroad, thus an international travel document is the main document confirming our identity outside of Russia.

Nowadays there is a wide variety of sophisticated technological solutions for biometric e-passports in order to authenticate the identity of the passport holder quickly and reliably.

At present time, there are two types of international travel ID documents, its forms differ from each other. Pages of a regular passport are printed on paper, and it doesn’t have an electronic RFID chip. It is printed on watermark paper using also other fraud-proof printing means. The data page is laminated and the photo is inserted into it.

In a biometric passport, the data page is plastic and the holder’s photo is laser-engraved, as well as other data. The data page is also laser-engraved with the image of the holder’s signature and the lines of the machine-readable zone (MRZ) in accordance with international standards.

In the upper-right corner of the data page, there is a protective element in the form of a circle made of a metallized film with a diameter of 19 mm, in its structure there is an additional passport holder image, visible in reflected light.

The form pages and content of a modern Russian e-passport meets international standards established in the special regulatory Document 9303 issued by the International civil aviation organization (ICAO). According to this document, the Russian e-passport (as well as passports of other countries) refers to machine-readable travel documents (MRTDs) that have the size of TD3 (Type 3 document) and is abbreviated as machine-readable passport (MRP).

It is called machine-readable because it has a special machine-readable zone (MRZ), which is placed at the bottom of the identity page and made according to the international standard. The machine-readable zone of a Type 3 travel document spans two lines, and each line is 44 characters long. The following information must be provided in the zone: name, passport number, nationality, date of birth, sex, and passport expiration date. These details are available for optical verification by a person, or for automatic document recognition based on computer vision. MRZ reader makes it possible to read the main passport data quickly and accurately using specialized passport scanners, MRZ scanners, as well as programs with integrated technologies for automatic MRZ recognition.


MRZ reading of biometric (or electronically readable) passports provides data access stored on an RFID tag (Radio Frequency Identification) – a chip with non-volatile memory and a scanning antenna embedded in the plastic of a data page. The chip duplicates all information from the passport biodata page (holder’s document number, full name, citizenship, date of birth, gender, color digital photo, image of papillary pattern fingers). Use of the electronic format provides the traveller additional security protections inherent in chip technology.

According to the international standard, the dimensions of the passport page (ID3) is 125×88 mm. It is the purpose of ISO/IEC 7810 to provide criteria to which cards shall perform and to specify the requirements for such cards used for international interchange. The only thing which should be taken into consideration is that the thickness of the page is not regulated because it can vary greatly depending on what technologies are used. In the modern Russian international travel e-passport valid for 10 years the data page is covered with monolayer film, has a plastic layer that protects the RFID tag from damage and deformation.
According to the printing standard, a passport belongs to the high-security level of fraud-proof printing documents. It means that a special protected paper is used to prevent counterfeiting and fraud, and complex printing elements are placed on the pages that are not visible. Only some elements can be visible with ultraviolet or infrared light. Automatic recognition process, which is carried out on special scanners, allows you to recognize the protective elements unmistakably and warn the operator if signs of forgery are detected.

In a Russian travel ePassport, ID data is arranged according to the international standards and divided into 7 zones: I — mandatory header; II — mandatory and optional personal data elements; III — mandatory and optional document data elements; IV — mandatory holder’s signature; V — mandatory identification feature; VI — optional data elements; VII — mandatory machine-readable zone (MRZ). Zones I-VI form the visual-inspection zone (VIZ).

The visual inspection zone includes the following information: issuing state or organization, name and type of document, passport number, holder’s full name, date of birth, gender, place of birth, date of issue and date of expiry and authority or issuing office.

According to the Russian standard based on the international requirements, it’s common knowledge that the typeface and font size used to perform data in the visual inspection zone must be conformed to State Standard Specification 16330 (in Russia GOST 16330). The standard requires to use OCR-B fonts in Type 1 with thick stroke and 2.54 mm spacing, but the text is typed in capital letters (upper case). The inscriptions contain all letters of the Russian and Latin alphabets, as well as the numbers 0123456789. According to the rules, letters of the Russian alphabet are replaced during transliteration in order to avoid discrepancies. The content of the Russian travel e-passport is printed in two languages. Take into account that in the Russian e-passport the name is specified as the last name, first name and patronymic, the latter one is not transliterated into Latin.

Passports are high-quality documents produced under strictly controlled conditions, and contain numerous highly advanced and complex security features, that is why they are difficult to recognize. On the one hand, regulation and data sorting on the data page of a travel passport is a step towards facilitating machine recognition of the visual-inspection zone. On the other hand, there are a lot of protective elements on the passport, which at certain lighting angles, generate highlight or obstruct significant information, as a result it becomes difficult to recognize a passport on the fly in natural conditions. It is particularly true for recognition processes on mobile devices, without specialized equipment. Thus, Smart IDreader technology is constantly being improved and successfully solves the problem of minimizing the negative effects of emerging artifacts on the recognition process, making it faster and more accurate.

Russian MRTD recognition

This imaage shows the process of capturing data from Russian travel passport while it is recognized by Smart IDReader

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