When a number of the 254 Texas tax appraisal districts began to post photos of private homes on their web sites, thats when the trouble began. [Note: Reg.] The practice was designed to help appraisers and better inform homeowners when protesting their taxes. The photos were taken from the public street and were not of the homes interiors. Some districts posted floorplans as well. Effective September 1, 2005, all such content is to be removed.

After much turmoil, the Texas Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the appraisal photo bill:

SB 541 amends the Texas Tax Code to protect the confidentiality of photographs and floor plans of homes or property. These photographs and floor plans will remain available for the official use of the appraisal district, the state, the comptroller, taxing units and political subdivisions, but will be exempt from Open Records Requests from the public.

This is fascinating because this law showed how far the window on privacy could be pushed. Many of the largest properties in the survey were not revealing because they simply showed the front gate or the trees that blocked the property. Advocates for the bill were concerned that floor plans and photos made it easier for stalkers and burglers.

New York City had done the same thing in the 1980’s but the photos were not in the public domain because the internet was not readily accessible to the public in its present form.

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One Response to “In Texas, Privacy Was Not A Pretty Picture”

  1. JL says:

    Interesting point. Chicagoland has been doing this for years through the Cook County assessor web page. When looking up a property, there is a digital photo available for residential and commercial locations. For example if you go to their website: http://www.cookcountyassessor.com/filings/SearchNew/ and search by address for 233 Wacker in Chicago, you can pull up the Sears Tower tax info and photo.

    The stalking / burglar concern seems a bit overblown though since as you pointed out, the photos are taken from the public domain (a street). It’s the same view you would get on a driveby. The floorplans may be a more legitamate concern.