Digital Finds

joseph dot reeves at thehumanjourney dot net

(Not really) Reading your passport data remotely

Oct 22, 2009 by Joseph Reeves

Anna and myself were looking at a book in a shop not long ago; I forget what it was called but it was basically a load of photographs of places abroad. The pictures were all nice enough, but the thing that made this book stand out was that every photo was accompanied by a QR code that, when pointed at with a mobile phone, would take you to a Google Maps page (via a TinyURL link) showing where the photo was taken.

Now I thought this was all a bit silly; what happens to the book when TinyURL goes down? Why would I buy a hardback book to, presumably, read at home and want to point my mobile phone at it? I've got a laptop at home, can't I browse Google Maps on that? If so, why would I want to buy a book just to hold up to a webcam? Couldn't they just print the TinyURL link so that I could type it in by hand until TinyURL disappears and the whole thing is left completely useless?

Regardless of all this, I did know some useless trivia: Japanese passport stamps had QR codes in them. This got my brain ticking: I've never been to Japan, would I be able to find a picture of a code? Would I be able to read the data from somebody's passport code if I could? Could I create my own passport sticker? Of course, I didn't really want to spend more than about ten minutes on this, so I headed to Flickr, the place where pictures of everything go and keys get copied.

Search for "Japan passport stamp" and loads of stuff comes up:

TR4NSLATOR was obviously worried that people would think along the same lines as me and blurred out his stamp before placing a picture of it online:

Cpt. Obvious shows somebody having the same idea as me:

krif provides us with a readable image:

The content of this QR Code doesn't mean much to me, but the concept has been proven:

[ώ ½?èwŠªÎrmšf'½Ž³%î‰Ä-SH?‘ÛؑUõ ¸No=ôyQ°1®l ) £È5§qpW_fF ÁÎéØcÐpa¶)¯H"©Üømgä㸳8' À9 -τõß pY>!κ øP…\ȣ*‰ô|† Dm ¦Ài jȟã`Ï$ÙÔ'¬9(ŲÇY:ªõsºÅõN7^šàãDëJÇ

I spent about 2 minutes Googling (I'd already spent most of my 10 minutes holding my phone in front of my laptop) to see if anyone was talking about extracting meaningful data from these QR Codes, but couldn't find anything.

Finally I Google'd up a site to make my copy code and came up with:

Would I print it out, stick it in my passport and fly to Japan? No. But I filled those spare ten minutes alright.

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