TCS Daily


Google Earth and the Taxpayer

By Martin Krause - March 5, 2007 12:00 AM

BUENOS AIRES -- For those who have been fighting for the ideas of freedom, the Internet Revolution opened a new era. Technology would help educate people on the benefits of freedom and the need to restrict government. And as the informational content of goods and services grew, a larger percentage of exchanges could be dealt with in the virtual world of the Internet, far from the controlling eye of the state.

Not only that, some policies would become obsolete. Take the case of news control. During the Malvinas/Falklands war, for example, the Argentine military government kept a tight control on the news. Only reporters who were friendly with it would be allowed to visit the invaded island and report from there. Argentines thought that what the government was reporting was true until they suddenly realized they had been defeated.

This sort of prospect would be much harder now: anyone would just go online and find the latest information from British or US media, or Spain's blogs, etc. It is for this reason that countries such as Cuba and China make concerted efforts to control access to the net and deny unfettered access to most of their people.

Technology is a knife that cuts both ways. And even though it seems now that it is mostly enlarging the realm of individual freedom, it is also used by government to move in a Big Brotherly direction.

The provincial taxman in Buenos Aires, the most populated province in Argentina, is now using Google Earth Pro in order to detect "evaders" to the tax on land and real estate.

Tax authorities are looking to find out if the size of properties declared coincides with what they can measure from above. And the government claims to have found some 362 undeclared houses and another 245 under construction on about 90 thousand square meters in private neighborhoods. The structures have an estimated value of $35 million (US).

Argentine taxpayers are starting to rally against the move. They are claiming the government is intruding into the intimacy of their homes. And they are also complaining about government mismanagement in the first place.

According to a real estate developer who built several of the neighborhoods under surveillance, at the same time the inspectors were finding the houses and new constructions, in another governmental office the blueprints of the new houses were awaiting to be approved by the same government. As it turns out, the office of registration is so slow that many of the new houses are still unregistered even when they were submitted several months before.

Now that the Google Earth Pro technology is in the bureaucrats' hands, they should probably use Google Desktop -- to find out that the information they are looking for is already within their own computers!

The author is Professor of Economics, University of Buenos Aires.


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3 Comments

Google Earth...
must work faster in Brazil than here; or, Brazil is really slow. My lot was cleared 30 months ago, yet the current Google Earth desktop image shows no disturbance. I don't know what the average age of the available images is over the US, but they certainly are not all current.

avg age 18-24 months, as much as 36 months
from: http://www.keyhole.com/body.php?c=popup&h=home&t=faqHome

Keyhole continuously updates its database with the average age of imagery ranging from 18 to 24 months. Imagery can vary in age from as new as 2-3 months to as old as 2-3 years. Keyhole is increasingly taking advantage of satellite imagery to update the Keyhole database more aggressively.

Current??
I added an addition to my house in 1991. The last time
I checked Google Earth (a few months ago), the addition was not visible.

Maybe "Big Brother" will use Google Earth as a tool of misinformation?

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