It's estimated that one in 50 people lack fingerprints. A 62-year-old man from Singapore is one of them. He was recently held at an airport in the United States because immigration officials could not identify him through his fingerprints. After four hours, convinced he was not a threat, he was allowed to enter the country.
According to a report in the Annals of Oncology, the man is a cancer patient, and was taking a drug called capecitabine, which is sold here as Xeloda. One possible side effect of the drug is hand-foot syndrome, which causes the skin on the hands and feet to peel. The man's doctor, Tan Eng Huat, who wrote the report, told Reuters:
"The topmost layer ... is the layer that accounts for the fingerprint, that (losing that top layer) is all it takes (to lose a fingerprint). Theoretically, if you stop the drug, it will grow back but details are scanty. No one knows the frequency of this occurrence among patients taking this drug and nobody knows how long a person must be on this drug before the loss of fingerprints."
But this raises a troubling question about security. In this case, immigration officials told the man he should be traveling with a note from his oncologist that explains his condition. But as fingerprint technology expands, it is possible that people who should not be allowed into the country could exploit the system to gain entry? Homeland Security says it has it covered. "We have standard operating procedures that take that into account," the Department's Anna Hinken tells USA Today. She says officers decide whether to admit such people on the basis of other physical and behavioral traits.
But even with those precautions in place, mistakes can still be made. Fairfax County, Virginia police fingerprint specialist Bill Reeves perhaps said it best when he told ABC News, "As our society comes to embrace more biometric access for security, that could create some havoc."