As more neighborhoods embrace the
privacy and protection that gated communities provide, officials find
themselves faced with more obstacles in evaluating the values of homes
in both the United States and abroad. But, due to a handy program
developed by the folks at Google, authorities are finding a way to slip
through those pesky gates.
Just ask Santiago Montoya, the
Undersecretary of Public Revenue for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Via the
assistance of one of the world’s few free satellite imagery tools,
Montoya is not only able to determine home values in exclusive
communities, but is given a bird’s eye view into the world of fraud.
Using Google Earth™,
he is able to see directly into private and public citizens’
properties in an effort to ensure that homeowners and business owners
alike are not perpetrating fraud by making additions to their properties
for which they are not being held fiscally responsible. The virtual
globe program integrates detailed satellite images and aerial
photographs with other types of maps to provide its users with the
ability to virtually go places that they could never have gone before,
such as directly into one’s driveway or into the middle of a park.
This isn’t the first time Montoya has used a
technology tool to uncover fraud in Buenos Aires. As recently as 2005,
he and officials within his department implemented the capabilities of a
new computer program that allowed them to uncover the tax evasion
efforts undertaken nearly 250,000 Argentines. Montoya’s investigation
turned up information that indicated many of his prominent countrymen,
including politicians, were maintaining credit cards whose funds were
directed through foreign lending institutions in order to allow them to
avoid paying sales tax on items they bought.
Just as that product helped Montoya and his office
wage war on tax evasion, this new technology is allowing he and his
colleagues to wage "a real war" on fiscal deficits. Based upon the
implementation of the system, his office has already taken several
steps to reduce what he calls widespread real estate tax fraud in
"Images of properties from the sky help square the
actual size of properties with that declared by taxpayers to make sure
the proper amount of taxes are being paid," Montoya said. He
added that the free program provides members of his office with the
capability to discover undervalued property, as well.
Users of the system quickly realize that the resolution and clarity of
the images provided by the free program can be astonishing. Prior to the
availability of this product, the only people who could access such
satellite and aerial images were government agents or people with access
to expensive satellite imagery programs. According to Google, most areas
are covered by satellite imagery with a resolution of about 15 m per
pixel while population centers are often covered by aircraft imagery
with much higher resolution and even 3D views.
Yet, the program’s capabilities don’t end there. Using advanced or
simple search terms, such as “the Eiffel Tower” or “movie theater,
Denver, Colorado” users are transported to locations anywhere in the
world all at the touch of the button. In addition to these features,
Google Earth even sports an address search and a business search
So, the next time you make that improvement in your backyard and think
“the tax assessor will never know,” remember one thing, he’ll only know
what Google Earth tells him.
The free version of Google Earth™
is available to anyone but can be difficult to find.
The download takes about two minutes.
(Find places to
Download Google Earth)