Lithuania And Estonia Use Google Maps Street View To Catch Tax Cheats

from the small-pieces-loosely-joined dept

As we've noted before, the information captured by Google's Street View has been put to some surprising uses, and the Boston Globe has come across a further fascinating example from Lithuania:

Sitting in the comfort of their own offices, inspectors used the free Internet program for a virtual cruise around the streets of some of the Baltic country's big cities, uncovering dozens of alleged tax violations involving housing construction and property sales.

They identified 100 homeowners and 30 construction companies as suspected tax dodgers thanks to Street View, finding homes where they shouldn't be and other suspicious activity, Darius Buta, a spokesman for the State Tax Inspectorate, said Wednesday.
Ars Technica points out that Estonia is doing the same. This might lead to demands for houses to be blurred, as can be requested in Germany. But the Boston Globe article notes that it's not just Street View that tax authorities are mining for clues about people not paying all their taxes:
In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service has said it would be cross-referencing information from taxpayers' Facebook and Twitter accounts if their returns threw up any red flags.

In Britain, tax officials have revealed they are using Web crawling software to trawl auction websites for undeclared sales.

Authorities in Greece have been using satellite imagery to locate undeclared swimming pools in wealthy neighborhoods.
The ability to draw on the massive stores of data that are now publicly available means that even seemingly trivial information, when cross-referenced with more of the same, can allow governments and others to create surprisingly detailed profiles of people that may have far from trivial consequences.

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  1.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:06pm

    My point

    The ability to draw on the massive stores of data that are now publicly available means that even seemingly trivial information, when cross-referenced with more of the same, can allow governments and others to create surprisingly detailed profiles of people that may have far from trivial consequences.

    That's what I have been saying. This info is either already publicly available or can be purchased. Government has access to the same data lots of other people and companies do. Privacy is not a government issue. If the info is collected and made available in some form, then demonizing government over privacy strikes me as a dodge by these companies.

     

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  2.  
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    TheLoot (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

    Nice to know that anyone arguing against this practice is promoting tax evasion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    crade (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:22pm

    Re:

    You're either with us, or you're with the child molestors/tax evaders/terrorists/whatever

     

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  4.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:40pm

    The US does this, too

    Or at least a few of the counties in my state do, in exactly this way, for exactly this purpose.

     

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  5.  
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    crade (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:51pm

    Re: My point

    The reason to demonize gov't is because they set up the rules to decide how much privacy to give us, not because they are neccessarily the actual snoops (although, lets be honest here, they do their fair share of peeping as well)

     

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  6.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Re: My point

    The reason to demonize gov't is because they set up the rules to decide how much privacy to give us ...

    Would you be in favor of having laws which limit what companies can collect about us, save, and sell or provide to partners? If the data isn't available, then it can't be handed over to the government.

     

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  7.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 4:43pm

    Anyone besides me note GOOGLE is the enabling factor?

    Hmm? Anyone? ... (crickets) ... Well, folks, by promoting Google and other corporations you're setting up your future in a prison of surveillance.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 4:49pm

    If its public data Its public data.

    If street view is public and the government is using it to go after tax evader then GOOD! Let the government us any public data it wants.

    However if the Data is not public then the goverment has not right to it with a warrent(at least in the US and I would hope everywhere). The problem is when the government is snooping into data thats not private.

    It seems like its a very simple line to draw. A photo of the front of my house is public. My public Facebook posts are public. My emails and Facebook posts to only friends are not.

    If some company collects data about me that can not be collected by a public method then its private data and not to be used by the government.

     

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  9.  
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    PRMan, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Anyone besides me note GOOGLE is the enabling factor?

    What's the matter, OOTB? Worried that they're going to catch your buddies' massive tax evasion schemes?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 5:18pm

    Re: If its public data Its public data.

    However if the Data is not public then the goverment has not right to it with a warrent(at least in the US and I would hope everywhere). The problem is when the government is snooping into data thats not private.

    If the data is for sale, then the government or one of its contractors can purchase it the way companies do when they want access to personal data that has been collected on people. At some point the government is going to figure out it isn't worth the political hassle to pass laws to obtain this data. It will just use private contractors for everything.

     

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  11.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 8:23pm

    Re: Re: If its public data Its public data.

    It may also turn out that we'll see more crowdsourcing of government investigations.

    A VC: Evidence On Our Smartphones: "The rise of computers that we all carry with us everywhere, and their ability to capture what is going on around them, time stamp it, and geotag it, creates a ton of interesting opportunities. Including law enforcement opportunities. And I think that is a good thing."

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 11:49pm

    It is a good article, but doesn't this collide a bit with the "full disclosure" that has been promoted in earlier posts?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Apr 19th, 2013 @ 3:37am

    That's somewhat nice and somewhat annoying. They are doing pretty much the same in Brazil, specially on larger cities but mainly with satellite images for now. This way they are quickly updating built area in any property and updating the tax charged (always up, never down regardless if the area diminished heheh) as a consequence. The only thing that escapes this are further vertical floors with the same roof structure as they'd be invisible to satellite but NOT to Street View.

    I think it's sort of okay since these taxes are supposed to be paid but it leaves a bitter taste when you think so much of these taxes vanish to corruption and inefficient expending.

     

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  14.  
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    A. Nnoyed (profile), Apr 19th, 2013 @ 4:58am

    Snooping via satellite not invented in Lithuania And Estonia

    It was reported that building departments here in Florida have been using satellite imaging to find property improvements where the owner did not apply for building permits or receive inspection certificates. Unfortunately there have been some homeowners accused inaccurately, of improving their property without a permit because the building departments were incompetent at record keeping. In many cases the improvement had been permitted and inspected. In one case a homeowner was accused of having a sun room (enclosed porch) on their property, observed via satellite, that the building department claimed was constructed without permits or inspections by the previous owner. The current owner was ordered to remove it, bring it up to current code or pay a $250.00 a day fine if the property did not comply within 30 days.

    The building department wound up with egg on their face when the current property owner checked the document package, the previous owner gave them at closing. The current property owner found the building permit and inspection certificate for the sun room in the package. The management of the building department did not keep accurate records of the building permits and inspections. In this case the homeowner was assumed guilty until they proved themselves innocent.

     

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  15.  
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    RyanNerd (profile), Apr 19th, 2013 @ 5:58am

    1984

    The Party constantly watches all citizens for any sign of rebellion or thought-crime, but tries to appear kind and concerned rather than ruthless and invasive. It adopts the protective, reassuring persona of 'Big Brother' and the slogan:

    "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU"

     

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  16.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 19th, 2013 @ 9:02am

    Re: Anyone besides me note GOOGLE is the enabling factor?

    Funny... Google's name is right there in the title to this post. I know that you are required to find fault with every single thing said on this site, but surely you could have found some criticism that wasn't insanely off the mark.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2013 @ 4:44pm

    Re:

    The argument that we pay too much in taxes, that too much gets taxed that shouldn't get taxed, and that the taxes just goes to corruption is a separate issue than whether or not tax evaders should get caught.

    I completely agree that we pay too much in taxes and too much gets taxed that the government has no business taxing and that much of that money gets spent on corruption anyways. But we should address that separately. We should put pressure on our government to stop taxing every little thing we do and to lower our existing taxes. As far as the corruption is concerned, that's hard to fix but stricter controls and public transparency requirements and broader more sever (criminal) charges and punishments and personal liability that are harder for politicians to dodge are a start. But the real issue is getting the government to press charges against politicians when they knowingly act corrupt.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2013 @ 4:46pm

    Re: Snooping via satellite not invented in Lithuania And Estonia

    "It was reported that building departments here in Florida have been using satellite imaging to find property improvements where the owner did not apply for building permits or receive inspection certificates."

    This has been going on for several years now here at least where I live in California. and I know this from people it happened to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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