Do They Check Hard Drives at Airports?

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Are you traveling for work and bringing a lot of files and electronics, such as laptops and hard drives? If this is your first business flight, you might be wondering: do they check hard drives at airports? What if you are bringing files that are top-secret or extremely confidential?

This article will shed light on bringing gadgets and electronics onto airplanes, particularly hard drives. You will learn about what airport security usually checks, what they don’t, and what they are looking for. You will also learn how to secure your data before traveling so it isn’t susceptible to getting accessed or even stolen by the wrong people.

Can You Bring External Hard Drives on Airplanes?

In general, yes, you can bring external hard drives on airplanes.

It is, however, recommended that you pack your hard drives and other gadgets and sensitive electronics in your carry-on case or personal bag. These are the items that you take with you on the plane, and long-time travelers often advise you to carry any gadget or electronics where the risk of it getting damaged is too high.

You can opt to put your hard drive in your check-in luggage, but it’s often safer not to. Just like you pack your laptop, tablet, iPad, mobile phone, and other more sensitive electronics in your carry-on luggage, it’s best to pack your hard drive with the rest of them.

The reason for this is that if ever your hard drive gets damaged from the way it is handled as they are loaded onto and off the plane or stolen, the airline won’t be responsible for the damages. It’s better to keep them on you together with your other valuables so that you can keep them safe.

Tip: Looking for a good hard drive for traveling? Then get a portable, lightweight hard drive that won’t break from being stored at the bottom of your pack.

Can Airport Security Legally Check Your Hard Drives, Mobile Phone, Flash Drives, or Laptop?

A hard drive plugges into a laptop

It is legal in several countries for airport security or border agents to check your laptop, hard drive, or any other electronic device you have on hand. This includes your mobile phone and flash drives. They often do this to search for pornography. It is not only in the US that this is done as British custom agents also do the same.

Airport security won’t physically open your hard drive, nevertheless, they might plug it in and search its contents. Aside from checking and searching your laptop and other electronic gadgets, they can also download the contents of your laptop and keep your laptops with them for several days.

Usually, however, the airport security of the country where you’re departing from won’t need to check your luggage because that would only delay the process of your departure. Sometimes, however, airport security might want you to start your laptop just for them to be sure that you haven’t replaced the battery with anything else. This is also the reason why placing your laptop in your checked luggage may seem more suspicious, as it’s like you’re hiding something.

Most of the time, it is in the country where you are arriving that you are most likely to go through a more rigorous check. If airport security has a reason to suspect that you may have nefarious content on your laptop or hard drive or any of your gadgets, you may be subject to a very thorough check.

Tip: For storing all of your chargers and wires, get a small travel electronics pouch, which does a superb job at keeping everything organized.

How Often Does Airport Security Actually Check Hard Drives?

It varies from airport to airport and country to country. There are some places where the security checks are stricter and if they see you traveling with a lot of hard drives (whether in your carry-on or check-in luggage), airport security can take you aside for some questioning.

Or, if, to them, you look suspicious or might be carrying some illegal material, they will take a look at your items.

Several travelers, however, have been traveling to and from many countries throughout the years carrying laptops and hard drives, and they haven’t been stopped by airport security yet. Nor have they had to submit their things for further inspection.

If you’re carrying work files, photos, and other things that are otherwise safe, and the airport security doesn’t see you as carrying suspicious content, you should be safe.

Read Next: 30 Things to Do Before Traveling Abroad

Do Customs Look for Pirated Content on Hard Drives?

Some people who are traveling from one country to another worry about pirated content that might be on their hard drives. These can include books, movies, music, apps, and more. Travelers who fly several times a year have said that they have been able to get away with pirated content on their hard drives.


Airport security’s biggest concern is the safety and security of the passengers who are flying in and out. The only content that is illegal to possess is child pornography. So if you have a hard drive full of pirated content, you don’t have to worry about it too much. Copyright enforcement isn’t really done by law enforcement, much less airport security. Usually, it is the copyright owner who will pursue the lawsuit in court.

Read Next: How Did You Get TSA PreCheck Without Applying?

How To Prepare and Hide Your Data Before Traveling

Hard drive laid out next to a laptop

If you want to be sure that your data and files remain safe and hidden while traveling, there are steps you can take to do that.

Travel only with what you need.

If you don’t need certain files, certain gadgets, and electronics, certain devices, it’s best to leave them at home. This lowers the risk of having your data stolen by criminals or searched and confiscated by authorities.

Encrypt your data.

If you have absolutely no choice but to take your files along, but you still want to add that extra layer of protection, you can encrypt your data. Data encryption is a security method that makes your data appear scrambled so the person who is accessing your data can’t properly read it without permission.

Note: Make sure to leave a full backup of your data at home so you have a copy of all your documents and files in case something happens to them.

Hide more sensitive files.

If you’re traveling with company secrets or sensitive information, you might want to hide certain folders from your hard drive or laptop. If these are detected, however, you might still be required to make them visible or to give the person inspecting them access.

Log out of everything and enable passwords.

When you’re working on your own laptop and gadgets, it’s often easier to click the box that allows it to remember you so you don’t have to keep logging in and typing your password every time. That shouldn’t be the case, however, when you travel.

It’s better to remove any saved login credentials, clear your browser history and cookies, and also turn off autofill. You should also enable a password for your laptop and then shut it down (when you’re not using it), to ensure that it is fully protected.

Read Next: Is It Safe to Put a Laptop in Checked Luggage?

Final Words

Traveling with hard drives, laptops, and other devices isn’t that complicated. If you’re an honest traveler, just trying to do your job or looking to have an enjoyable time, then you have nothing to worry about. As long as you don’t have anything illegal on your gadgets (e.g. child pornography, pirated content, e.t.c.), you should be perfectly safe to pass through customs and security.

At the same time, remember that you want to keep your data as safe as possible. You can opt to protect your gadgets with passwords, hide some files, or encrypt your data. Ultimately, you know what kind of data you are bringing and how secure it must be. Remember to do this before your trip and to always keep a backup of your files. You’ll never know when you might need it!

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