A version of this article originally appeared on THUMP Germany.
Authorities in Belgium have barred 38 ticket-holders from attending the Tomorrowland music festival this weekend, according to media reports. These individuals were denied entry to the festival after local police conducted an advance security screening of the 400,000 electronic music fans holding tickets to the event.
Belgian daily newspapers De Standaard and Gazet Van Antwerpen were the first to report on the security checks on Tuesday, noting that a spokesman for the federal police had confirmed that all 400,000 ticket-holders were screened using the Belgian police force's national database. The purpose of the massive inspection, the papers suggested, was to determine whether any ticket-holders posed any safety threats to the festival. De Standaard additionally reported that the mayors of Boom and Rumst—two towns located in the immediate vicinity of the festival—granted police authorization to conduct the screening.
Peter De Waele, the spokesman for the Belgian Federal Police, explained to the Gazet van Antwerpen that the screening of festival-goers was designed to build digital barriers—a supplement to the physical barriers that serve as protection from vehicle attacks. "The police have a clear set of rules when it comes to denying people entry," de Waele added. "But this is not about organized crime or drug related crime, for example. [...] Many people were being flagged for bigger and smaller reasons, but we didn't make any decisions lightly."
THUMP asked several-ticket holders whether they had been informed of the security check when they purchased their tickets. "I heard about it from a friend," noted one festival-goer, Jannik, who asked that we use his first name only. "Before that, I had no idea. I also didn't get any emails about it." Jannik additionally stated that he doubted "that 38 of the visitors can be classified as terror suspects. I'd like to know why these people aren't getting access."
Another ticket-holder, who requested anonymity, expressed a similar sentiment, adding: "Of course we all read and accepted the terms and conditions. I guess there would have been some clause in there."
THUMP reached out to Tomorrowland to ask if such a clause existed in the terms and conditions for ticket purchases. Deby Wilmsen, a spokesperson for the festival, explained via email that the first section of Article 12 of the general terms and conditions points towards the collection of customers' personal data. These terms and conditions are made available on the festival's website.
Wilmsen told THUMP that this procedure is nothing new for the festival. "We've been passing on our collected data to the police for years now," she said. "The police then inform the visitors, upon which we block their tickets and refund their money."
The police have yet to provide the public with information as to the exact course of the investigation and the reasons leading to the bans. No advance bans of this kind have been reported in previous years, and the news comes at a time when Belgium is on high terror alert—the second highest terror threat level.
Some of those banned from the festival have already spoken out. Cain Ransbotyn, 39, from Brasschaat is one of them. He told the Belgian news website 7sur7 that he had stolen a bottle of gin from the VIP area at Tomorrowland 2016, in order to fill a water gun with gin and to spray his friends with it. This was even documented in a video:
The police walked him off the festival grounds moments later, says Ransbottyn. He believes that he was denied access this year on account of this action. Lars Laeremans, another banned ticket holder, told 7sur7 that his only police offense was driving under the influence, for which he was arrested. Neither Ransbottyn nor Laeremans know for certain why they were barred entry.
Meanwhile, the Belgian Privacy Commission—an independent supervisory authority operating under the auspices of the Belgian House of Representatives, with the purpose of ensuring that an individual's privacy is protected wherever the collection of personal data is concerned—has spoken out against the procedure, noting that it was never involved in this "preventative, general screening, which is problematic on several levels."
The Commission further stated that it was never asked to "investigate the lawfulness of this preventative screening," and that it would look into the matter in cooperation with with Comité P and Coc, two bodies in charge of evaluating police operations in the country.
Translated by Simon Dilmanian and Mari Meyer.