Airport Xrays Effect On Computers

Many people take their computers through airports.

Getting through airport security can be a long process–shoes off, hats off, shampoo and conditioner carefully measured into mini-containers, lunch bagged by a vendor, drinks tossed, and laptops out of their bags and placed in a separate bin to go through the x-ray machine. Gasp! My laptop is going through the x-ray machine?

What People Believe

Most people suspect, and many people believe, that x-rays are potentially harmful to floppy discs, compact disks, computer hard drives, portable media such as flash drives, and photographic film. In fact, while x-rays can harm photographic film (but not digital cameras) under some circumstances, they cannot harm computer equipment or media.

X-Rays Are Electromagnetic Energy

Computer equipment can be harmed by magnetic energy, but it cannot be harmed by electromagnetic energy, which is essentially light waves just like visible light, infrared light, microwaves and radio waves. X-rays are electromagnetic energy. The only way these light waves could hurt computer equipment or media is by melting them as might happen if a computer were left in direct sunlight in a closed car during the summer.

X-Rays Are Harmless, Metal Detectors Are Not

Putting your laptop and other computer hardware and media on the belt to go through the x-ray machine is probably the safest thing you can do with it at an airport security checkpoint. Taking the laptop through the metal detector with you (which the Transportation Security Administration would not allow in any case) might wipe the data on the hard drive. Metal detectors use magnetic energy, to which computer equipment is susceptible.

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Beware of Thieves, Not X-Rays

The danger to your computer at the airport security checkpoint comes not from x-ray machine itself but from thieves. The government of the state of North Dakota describes a scheme in which one member of a team jumps in front of you in line at the metal detector after you have put your computer on the belt to go through the x-ray machine. His action sets off an alarm. While everyone is distracted by the alarm, his partner takes your computer off the belt after it has gone through the x-ray machine and takes off with it. Make sure you have a clear path through the metal detector to the back end of the conveyor belt before you release your hold on the bin with your computer in it.

Watch Out for “Accidental” Exchanges

The Transportation Security Administration recommends labeling your computer before you put in on the conveyor belt to go through the x-ray machine to help prevent another passenger from “accidentally” picking up your laptop instead of her own at the end of the belt. Seeing your business card taped to the laptop case could discourage someone intending to make such an exchange.