TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, December 9, 2013

IRS Uses Google Maps to Spy on Taxpayers

Google MapsDaily Caller:  IRS Using Google Maps to Spy on Taxpayers:

Agents from the IRS are using Google Maps as part of their tool kit to audit taxpayers and organizations, The Daily Caller has learned.

A redacted IRS letter dated Sept. 8, 2011 [Priv. Ltr. Rul. 2013-13-031] reveals that at least in one case the IRS’s examiners used photos of a property, obtained through Google Maps, as evidence to revoke the 501(c)(4) status of a homeowner’s association.

“The road consists of a two-mile loop around the inside of the property. It goes not have any sidewalks or bicycle lanes. The examining agent printed and copied a map from Google Maps ( into this report,” states the letter. ...

In formal guidance issued to IRS agents inspecting historical conservation sites, however, Google Maps and the online real estate database Zillow are mentioned as tools to help determine whether a property meets the regulatory requirements necessary to receive charitable contributions. ... The guidance, which is posted publicly online at the IRS’s website, was last revised on Jan. 3, 2012. An agency manual, effective Oct. 1, 2013, also lists Google, Google Maps, and a number of other Internet search tools to help agents spy on taxpayers.

In July 2012, according to, the Treasury Department and the IRS awarded a $9,585 contract to Virginia-based information technology vendor ICS Nett, Inc. to pay for “Google Maps License and Maintenance.” ...

Government tax collectors in Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, and the U.K. have also used Google Maps and Google Street View against suspected tax dodgers.

The TaxProf Blog warned in 2010 that the practice was coming to the U.S. after witnessing it transpire in Greece.

IRS News, Tax | Permalink


The Service is a few years behind the private sector. I was using free satellite photos and topographic maps to help defend clients under audit in the mid-2000s.

Posted by: Brian | Dec 9, 2013 6:04:39 PM

TaxProf Blog "warned" about this? I would think that most law-abiding, taxpaying citizens would expect the IRS to do this, in order to ensure that the tax laws are being enforced. "Warned?" There seems to be a suggestion here that there is something improper about the IRS enforcing the law. It would be nice if we could take everyone's word for tax compliance. Sadly, however, we cannot.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Dec 10, 2013 8:14:15 AM