The thumbprint verification system for a host of public facilities is posing problems to an increasing number of Malaysians.

KUALA LUMPUR: The thumbprint verification system for a host of public facilities is posing problems to an increasing number of Malaysians.

These people find themselves being denied access to basic facilities because they are either in their twilight years or have skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, skin infection and skin cancer.

The source of their woes — unrecognisable thumbprints.

As the biometric system is applied to a host of critical sectors, this group does not have it easy in carrying out basic routines, including over-the-counter bank transactions and security clearance.

Applying for a passport or even getting access to their life-long savings in the Employees’ Provident Fund is difficult or even near impossible.

The New Straits Times explored their cases to understand their cry for help from the government to make life less problematic.

They are asking that Malaysia considers, among others, applying systems similar to some countries where identity verification is also carried out using prints from fingers other than the thumb.

The fingerprint data of Malaysians are encoded into the chip of their MyKad.

This data is registered in the system when the identification document is issued to them.

The National Registration Department told NST that it had been issuing “printed out versions” of the contents of the MyKad chip that would serve as referral documents for official dealings.

The printout contains details that are otherwise visible in the MyKad reader, with a successful thumbprint verification.

Last year, the department issued more than 13,000 such documents to those with unrecognisable thumbprints.

The document is issued on the spot for a fee of RM5.

“The document is valid for use in both the public and private sectors.

“Holders of this document should have no problem dealing with banks, the EPF, Inland Revenue Board, Election Commission or establishments that require thumbprint verification,” the NRD said.

However, the department admitted that it was aware that some establishments refused to recognise the document. Thus, it would address the matter with them.

Kuala Lumpur Hospital dermatologist Dr Azura Mohd Affandi said eczema, which was a common cause of fingerprint loss, could be triggered by factors such as constant exposure to detergents, contact with allergenic food ingredients, chemicals and plants.

Hand dermatitis, she said, would cause two distinctive changes to a person’s fingerprint — dystrophy or defects on the fingerprint pattern and abnormal white lines.

This could possibly affect the fingerprint by causing scaling, wrinkling or fissures and effacement of finger ridges.

“A local study conducted by Dr C.K. Lee showed that 27 per cent of patients with hand eczema failed their fingerprint verification.

“This failure is associated with the severity of their eczema.

“When each side of the thumb was analysed, 79 out of 200 thumbs (39.5 per cent) of patients with hand dermatitis failed the verification process, compared with only nine out of 200 thumbs (4.5 per cent) of those without eczema on the hands,” said Dr Azura.

Those at risk of developing contact hand dermatitis include housewives, hairdressers, healthcare workers and those with repeated exposure to cement, cutting oils or abrasives.

Dr Azura said people above 60 could also develop similar problems due to the loss of collagen.

“(The loss of collagen) causes their skin to become loose and dry. When the skin is no longer firm, it affects the quality of fingerprints acquired by the biometric sensors.”

Dr Azura said using moisturiser and topical steroids, however, would help restore some level of quality to one’s fingerprint.

“They should protect their hands with gloves when handling detergents and avoid using harsh cleansing agents.”

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