Argentina using Google Earth to uncover tax fraud

July 23, 2007

The government of Argentina is currently using Google Earth to discover residents who have expanded their homes, and therefore should have their property taxes increased.

According to Buenos Aires province tax official Santiago Montoya, images of properties from the sky can help square the actual size of properties with that declared by taxpayers to make sure the proper amount of taxes is being paid. [It is] also used by the Buenos Aires authorities to check if taxpayers may have expanded their homes in ways that would increase their value for taxation. (source)

The use of satellite imaging for discovering additions to property is nothing new. In the past, some U.S. state government agencies had used satellite photos to detect building or property improvements that would raise property taxes, and some plan to use them to find people who have built backyard porches without all the required building permits.1,2

What may be more alarming in this case is that Google has recently acquired ImageAmerica - a company that takes aerial photographs with its own airplanes and high-res cameras, capable of taking ground-level details measuring no more than six inches long.

Google has been facing criticism lately for its Street View service. In a now famous case, an owner's cat is visible within their apartment building for the world to see.

1Ross Kerber, "When Is a Satellite Photo An Unreasonable Search?" Wall Street Journal, Jan. 27, 1998, pp. B1, B7

2Sara Baase, A Gift of Fire, Second Edition, Prentice Hall, 2003, pp. 48