Lithuania taxman uses Google Maps to find dodgers (Update)

Apr 10, 2013 by Liudas Dapkus
An undated file photo provided by Google shows one of their street mapping cars. The moment Google Maps Street View was rolled out in Lithuania earlier 2013, tax authorities were ready. Sitting in the comfort of their own officers, tax inspectors used the free Internet program for a virtual cruise around the streets of some of Lithuania's large cities, uncovering dozens of alleged tax violations involving housing construction and property sales. Darius Buta, spokesman for the State Tax Inspectorate, said Wednesday April 10, 2013 that authorities have identified 100 homeowners and 30 construction companies as suspected tax dodgers thanks to Google Maps Street View. (AP Photo/Google, file)

As soon as Google Maps Street View was rolled out in Lithuania earlier this year, tax authorities were ready.

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, spokesman for the State Tax Inspectorate, said Wednesday.

"Our inspectors track these buildings on the Internet, and if a violation seems obvious, they visit the sites. This saves lots of time and resources," Buta said.

Lithuanian officials said they were unaware of any other country where revenue collectors had used Google's Street View, saying they didn't draw on anyone else's experience. Still, tax authorities across the world are turning to high-resolution maps, online databases, and social media in a bid to catch out cheats.

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, while in Greece authorities have been using satellite imagery to locate undeclared swimming pools in wealthy neighborhoods.

Among the tax cheats caught in Lithuania were a couple in Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city, who didn't register the sale of buildings and avoided 240,000 litas ($91,000) in taxes, said Vaimaira Jakiene, the coordinator of the new program.

Another couple declared a sale of land but didn't mention a new house built on the property that was sold via a separate deal, said Jakienie. They are looking at a tax bill of 130,000 ($50,000), she added.

Tax officials said they planned to use Street View to take a peek at properties purchased from dubious construction companies over the past two years.

Google has had scrapes with European governments over Street View, with the Germans and French in particular concerned that the company's practice of deploying camera-mounted cars and bicycles to collect images and information for the application intrudes on privacy.

But the Lithuanian revenue agency dismissed any claims that its new approach violated privacy rights.

"We conducted precise legal consultations. There are no rights violations," Buta said, added that tax authorities also discussed privacy and security concerns with Google officials in Lithuania.

Human rights advocates in the Baltic state seemed to agree.

"We do not see violations here since inspectors use the Google application only to look at suspicious places—then they visit them," said Karolis Liutkevicius, a lawyer at the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Vilnius. "If they were using it as the sole tool, then it could possibly be qualified as a violation. But in this case it's just using a modern resource."

Explore further: Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

4.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Lithuania to turn Google Street View on tax cheats

Feb 07, 2013

Lithuanian tax authorities said Thursday they would use the Baltic state's recently launched Google Street View platform to track tax cheats by identifying the real value of property holdings.

Google Street View gets go-ahead in Lithuania

Jun 07, 2012

Google has gotten the go-ahead from Lithuania for its popular, if at times controversial, Street View application, an add-on to Google Maps, a company official said Thursday.

Google chairman hopes for France tax deal soon

Nov 05, 2012

Google chairman Eric Schmidt said Monday he hopes his firm will reach a settlement "by the end of the year" with authorities in France in a billion-dollar dispute over taxes.

French authorities probe Google's tax bill

Mar 20, 2012

French authorities are probing Google for potential tax avoidance, a source close to the matter said Tuesday, with the US Internet giant facing a possible bill of over 100 million euros ($132 million).

Italian probe alleges Google underpaid tax

Nov 28, 2012

A probe by Italian tax authorities into US Internet giant Google's Italian arm has found it failed to declare income of 240 million euros ($310 million) and pay value added tax of 96 million euros.

Israel mulls security impact of Google Street View

Feb 21, 2011

Israeli ministers on Monday discussed the security and privacy implications of allowing Google Street View to photograph streets in Israel ahead of the launch here of the 3D-mapping service.

Recommended for you

Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

Aug 26, 2014

People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

Aug 23, 2014

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

Aug 22, 2014

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

Philippines makes arrests in online extortion ring

Aug 22, 2014

Philippine police have arrested eight suspected members of an online syndicate accused of blackmailing more than 1,000 Hong Kong and Singapore residents after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcam, an official ...

User comments : 0