Though initially hesitant to endorse Google Street View, the Lithuanian government has discovered the mapping service may be instrumental in identifying tax cheats.
Tax inspectors will scour Google Street View images to determine whether real estate is accurately assessed or whether people are officially obscuring property values, Agence France Presse reports. The government also plans to virtually traverse the Baltic nation’s streets to ensure all land and buildings are properly registered.
Lithuania isn’t the first government to openly admit to using Google Maps as a watchdog tool. In 2010, the Greek government clicked through Google Earth to find thousands of undeclared swimming pools amounting to billions of euros in back taxes.
Mayor of Vilnius Arturas Zuokas, on the other hand, is excited about Google’s detailed panoramic views for a more traditional reason: boosting tourism.
“It is highly symbolic because 690 years ago, approximately the same time as now, the grand duke Gediminas has informed the world about Vilnius,” Zuokas told the city’s tourism website. “Now almost seven centuries after that, with the help of Google, dwellers of all continents will discover the true beauty of the city.”
Despite the current enthusiasm from local officials for Google Street View’s benefits, the Lithuanian State Data Protection Inspectorate originally refused to grant Google photography consent over privacy concerns.
The Inspectorate wanted Google to set up a legal office in the country to comply with national legislation that requires companies based outside the European Union to engage a local representative to handle personal data—such as the candid photographs of citizens and property that appear in Google Maps.
Several countries– including, until recently, the Czech Republic—have banned Street View to similarly protect their citizens, but Google circumvented the issue in Lithuania by pointing out they already had an established operation in the European Union.
Adhering to their EU-wide licenses and to EU precedents regarding the right to privacy allowed the company to debut the Lithuanian application in late January through the work of Google Ireland and two Lithuanian employees that cover the Baltic market from Google’s Warsaw office.
Lithuanians, for their part, have already established a website showcasing some of the service’s more unorthodox images.