One in the eye for the forgers

Security and innovation are combined in Amer Al Jabri’s passport reader. The technologist at Dubai airport has built a device he says is more effective, efficient and cheaper than its rivals in the market.

Emirati inventor Amer Al Jabri with his cost-effective 7E passport reading machine. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // An Emirati inventor has forgers in his sights with his latest device that makes detecting fake or altered passports and ID cards at airports much easier, and cheaper.

Amer Al Jabri designed and built the 7E Reader that not only scans a passport’s details, it also searches for discrepancies such as if the data in the barcode has been changed, the expiration date or name altered, or if the original photo has been switched.

Currently airport staff use two separate machines to read a passport and to check for fakes.

His two-in-one invention not only saves time, essential when dealing with passengers at a busy airport’s passport control desk, it also comes in at around 40 per cent cheaper than the current technology.

Mr Al Jabri said his device can detect forgeries that are “99 per cent identical to the original one”.

When a passport is placed in the 7E, the software checks it against the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s database that includes details of every passport in the world.

“It has the original format of all of the world’s passports so it can compare,” he said, adding it can also check other forms of ID.

“It also reads tickets, ID cards, visas in addition to passports. If I have a copy of your original ID card, and you give me a forged copy, I have the original source to compare it with, so I will know what has been altered,” he said.

To demonstrate, Mr Al Jabri placed a forged passport in the device. The screen immediately displayed “interference occurred”. When he clicked on the screen for details it showed that the MRZ - the line of characters like a barcode on the bottom of the passport page - had been tampered with.

The 7E also allows customs staff to examine passports even more thoroughly using a microscope. Under closer scrutiny, the forgery was found to have a new photo placed on top of the original.

“There are many advanced devices worldwide, but we combined three in one, because the manual device is usually separate. A UV light also reveals all the details that the passport controller needs to identify the forgery.”

Mr Al Jabri’s invention, which has been supported by the Ministry of Interior’s Innovation Centre, is the result of a decade working in the passport examination lab at Dubai International Airport.

“Dubai airport has the highest rate of travellers around the world, so this required more innovation. We don’t want to delay passengers, we don’t want them to wait for a long time for the passport officer to finish processing their data, but ensuring security is also very important.”

His device came about after two trial phases.

“The first device I built was manual. I used a selfie stick and a normal lamp it saved me a lot of cost but it was only a passport examiner.”

For stage two, he upgraded his invention to both read and examine passports. He then further developed the device to include more security procedures.

Mr Al Jabri hopes his first of its kind invention will soon be rolled out at airports across the country.

“As an idea we are the first, no other country has a reader and examiner in a single device. In the UAE we will be the first.”

The 7E was demonstrated on the sidelines of the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament, who expressed their interest in it. Many international officials stopped at Mr AlJabri’s stand and studied how it works closely.