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Canada's spy agency mistakenly passed on citizens' metadata

Canada has stopped sharing intel with its allies after it discovered that its citizens' metadata wasn't properly disguised. The defense minister said it would resume sharing intel when adequate measures are put in place.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) - Canada's equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA) - passed information containing Canadian citizens' metadata to its counterparts in the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, a federal watchdog said Thursday.

Commissioner Jean-Pierre Plouffe, who is tasked with independently reviewing the agency's practices, said CSE broke national laws on safeguarding Canadian citizens' data, and recommended measures to properly disguise metadata when captured in data scoops.

According to Canadian law, the SCE is not allowed to specifically target the country's citizens or corporations, although it may acquire data about them while snooping on foreign targets.

"CSE cooperated fully with this investigation, was forthcoming, provided in-depth written accounts of the metadata minimization deficiencies and has been providing updates on the status of corrective efforts," Plouffe added.

Meanwhile, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced on Thursday that the CSE would suspend intelligence sharing.

"CSE will not resume sharing this information with our partners until I am fully satisfied the effective systems and measures are in place," said Sajjan.

The minister blamed the issue on technical deficiencies at the agency, adding that the metadata that was shared did not contain sufficient information to identify individuals.

"The privacy impact was low," noted Sajjan.

The NSA's controversial practice of scooping communications data and spying on its citizens was publicly exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, prompting concerns that other countries were implementing similar strategies.

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ls/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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