Faint fingerprints an issue for some at border scans

Thumbprint-scanning at the Singapore Cruise Centre. Car drivers and passengers passing through the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints must now also have their thumbprints scanned for security reasons.
Thumbprint-scanning at the Singapore Cruise Centre. Car drivers and passengers passing through the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints must now also have their thumbprints scanned for security reasons.ST FILE PHOTO

3 in 100 have problem due to age, skin conditions, harsh chemicals

As Singapore moves aggressively towards using thumbprint-scanning at more entry points into the country, one group is less enamoured of this development: those with faint or no fingerprints.

It is a condition that affects a growing number of people here - the number is set to rise further as fingerprints can become fainter with age.

In 2009, fewer than one in 100 users of the enhanced Immigration Automated Clearance System - automated clearance gates - had problems having their fingerprints scanned, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Today, the incidence is three in 100 people. They are referred to manned counters instead.

Questions about whether there are more effective ways to usher this group of people through checks come as Singapore ramps up security by using biometrics at more checkpoints.

Last week, the ICA announced that car drivers and passengers passing through the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints have to have their thumbprints scanned for security reasons. This is on top of having an ICA officer go through their passports. The move has sparked concerns that traffic jams could get worse.

For administrative officer Christine Kor, 56, there is another reason to worry. "My fingerprints are very faint. When I try to get them printed, you can't really see the lines," she told The Straits Times. "I think I might hold up the queue and cause longer jams."

WHAT'S THE HOLD-UP?

My fingerprints are very faint. When I try to get them printed, you can't really see the lines. I think I might hold up the queue and cause longer jams.

MADAM CHRISTINE KOR, an administrative officer, on the new thumbprint scans at the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints.

Madam Kor spends about 10 minutes longer at airport counters than her friends and family as she has to go through manual clearance instead of the automated gates.

"Every time, I have to go through this hassle," she said. "It would be good if they could put a note in my passport so they know I am an exception and let me through (more quickly)."

She said her fingerprints have grown fainter over the past 10 years. She thinks it is because she often hand-washes her clothes.

Dermatologists say skin conditions such as eczema are the most common causes of faint fingerprints. It can also be caused by exposure to harsh chemicals, detergents, washing, food-handling and excessive hand-washing, and is more common among housewives, hairdressers, cleaners, mechanics, food handlers and healthcare workers exposed to wet work and chemicals.

Scarring, skin cancers and infections such as finger warts could also be culprits, said Dr Oh Choon Chiat, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital's department of dermatology. Other chronic conditions, such as excessively sweaty palms, could also cause fainter fingerprints.

In "extremely rare" cases, a person could be born with "abnormal" or no fingerprints, or abnormal fingers and toes, said Dr Tay Liang Kiat, consultant dermatologist at Dermatology and Surgery Clinic.

Many times, it is simply age.

Elderly people have drier and thinner skin that becomes less elastic with age, which can cause fingerprint ridges to flatten, he said.

The loss of fingerprints can be complete or partial.

On how this group can be better helped, an ICA spokesman said: "We appreciate the fact that some travellers may experience difficulties during the immigration clearance process due to their fingerprint issues. We would like to assure travellers that in such situations, they will be advised and assisted accordingly by our officers."

Previously, it had said that it intends to introduce iris scans, and travellers who face difficulties with fingerprint-matching will be able to use that option.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'Faint fingerprints an issue for some at border scans'. Print Edition | Subscribe