The town of Riverhead has used the satellite image service to find about 250 pools whose owners never filled out the required paperwork.
Violators were told to get the permits or face hefty fines. So far about $75,000 in fees has been collected.
Riverhead’s chief building inspector Leroy Barnes Jr. said the unpermitted pools were a safety concern. He said that without the required inspections there was no way to know whether the pools’ plumbing, electrical work and fencing met state and local regulations.
“Pool safety has always been my concern,” Barnes said.
But some privacy advocates say the use of Google Earth to find scofflaw swimming pools reeks of Big Brother.
Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., said Google Earth was promoted as an aid to curious travelers but has become a tool for cash-hungry local governments.
“The technology is going so far ahead of what people think is possible, and there is too little discussion about community norms,” she said.
A representative for Google said she did not know of any other community using Google Earth as it has been used in Riverhead. She did not respond to a question about whether Google has any concerns about how the town is using the service.