Photos taken from a height of 100-200 meters, which can be seen on Yandex map pages, show not only places popular with tourists. Railroad junctions, bridges, hydroelectric power stations and communication towers are also photographed – and the images may have been obtained in violation of Latvia’s strict drone flight laws, De facto suggests.
About 50 aerial panoramas were taken all around Riga. Even more views are available above Daugavpils.
“Unfortunately, the agency does not have sufficient information to clearly indicate what technical means were used to take these photos. Therefore, it cannot answer, confirm or deny that all the requirements set out in the regulations have been respected. “, the Civil Aviation Agency (CAA) head of the unmanned aircraft flight safety department Ilmārs Ozols told LTV.
Neither Yandex nor its representatives applied to the CAA for the special aviation work permit that would be required for the operation of an unmanned aircraft. Also, Yandex is not registered in the register of unmanned aircraft or drones.
The agency admits that someone could have provided Yandex with the footage from an outside source, but it seems pretty clear that a drone was used.
Ozols explains that at a maximum height of 120 meters, which is the general limit for drones, there are no special requirements to coordinate anything in order to take pictures, but other rules must also be respected, such as privacy, trade secrets and critical infrastructure.
The head of the CAA’s unmanned aircraft department believes that, at least in some photographs, the requirements may have been violated: “For example, near airports – Riga, Liepāja – there is a 5 kilometer limit where no flights is permitted, and in an even larger area there is a height limit of 50. In some places it can be identified that it was closer to the airfield or higher than these limits, but there is no ‘there is no detailed information, with what technical means, when and who would have done it – unfortunately there is no such information.
Yandex is Russia’s largest internet company. Russian state banks Sberbank and VTB are shareholders and in March this year the European Union included Tigran Khudaverdyan, CEO of Yandex, on its sanctions list. He attended a meeting of oligarchs in the Kremlin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In June, Yandex co-founder Arkady Volozh also faced sanctions. He is mentioned in the list as one of the main businessmen who are an important source of income for the Russian government.
It is known that Yandex sends data to Russian security services on request.
For example, the company itself revealed in 2020 that it received more than 15,000 requests for user information from Russian authorities in just six months, and Yandex responded to 84% of those requests. .
Yandex started creating panoramic bird’s eye views in 2012 with St. Petersburg. In 10 years, the western part of Russia has been covered with such 360-degree panoramas, photos have also been taken of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey, occupied Crimea and other places.
Yandex claimed in a written response to the LTV program “De facto” that Latvia was photographed by its map users.
“Yandex Maps, like similar map services, offers people from many countries the opportunity to put their scenic photos on our maps. We check the images for hate speech, private interiors and anything related to violation of privacy and other social norms. We may also remove photos upon lawful request,” the Yandex press office wrote.
You can find only a few photos of panoramas on Yandex Maps throughout the European Union, with the exception of Latvia, where, it seems, a three-year photo campaign took place – in 2019, 2020, 2021. In addition, all photos are of the same quality.
Photography of infrastructure objects is a cause for concern given the Russian war in Ukraine and Russia‘s intense targeting of civilian infrastructure. LTV reminds viewers that Russian military intelligence is particularly active in Latvia and that those who have previously been caught spying in Latvia have been tasked with photographing infrastructure objects such as towers, warehouses and railway tracks.
In a written comment to the program, the State Security Service (VDD) mentions that when planning sabotage and acts of terrorism against objects of national importance, detailed information is initially obtained, including movies and photographs. However, the images published on Yandex Maps are not of such quality, according to the service: “In the evaluation of the VDD, the photos available on the Yandex Maps website do not allow to see the infrastructures important for safety national and national security”. defense with such a level of detail to obtain intelligence-critical information. »
In recent years, the conditions for the use of unmanned aircraft have tightened. Since this summer, especially in Rīga, the equipment of the Civil Aviation Agency has been actively used, which allows the police to detect offenders. If a drone pilot violates the established altitude or proximity limit, the devices not only determine the location of the drone but also of the pilot.