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Satellite Imagery Puts Government Agents In Your Back Yard at the Touch of  a Button


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 Argentina.

"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 feature.

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)

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