An Australian-wide investigation into internet child pornography could lead to hundreds of prosecutions, after 400 search warrants were executed this week.
Codenamed Operation Auxin, the investigation was coordinated by the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) and has been ongoing since last March. The Australian Federal Police (AFP), as well as state and territory police were involved in the investigation.
According to a statement, more than 150 people have been charged with 2000 offences. The offences have included downloading, possessing or distributing child pornographic images. Police are expecting to summon hundreds more people to court to be charged with similar offences.
During investigations, police also found what appeared to be child pornography studios hidden in suburban homes, and libraries with "hundreds of thousands" of images dating back two decades, the statement said.
"Police in all states and territories, assisted by AFP, have seized computer hard drives, boxes of images, cameras and other equipment believed to be used in the manufacture and distribution of child pornography," according to the statement.
About 400 search warrants were executed this week in capital cities, as well as regional and country areas, it said.
Mike Phelan, director at the AHTCC, said the investigation should send a clear message that child exploitation would not be tolerated. "Conducting business from behind a computer screen doesn't make the crime any less heinous and doesn't guarantee the perpetrator's protection from police detection," Phelan said.
He said that the scale of the operation painted a worrying picture, in relation to the extent and spread of online child pornography.
"In this electronic age, child pornography has become a global crime," Phelan said. "Operation Auxin is the result of extensive intelligence analysis, including information from a large US investigation last year called Operation Falcon."
Phelan said the final statistics from Operation Auxin wouldn't be known for several days.