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Canada's Foreign Spy Agency Gave Your Information To Other Countries

Metadata, which can reveal who you've been talking to or what websites you visited, was accidentally shared with spies from other countries.

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Canada's foreign spy agency CSEC revealed Thursday it had mistakenly shared unprotected metadata with allied countries.

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CSEC, like all modern spy agencies, collects large amounts of metadata that tracks online and phone communication.

For example, collecting metadata allows the government to look at who is calling and texting each other, but it doesn't allow it to read the texts or listen in on the calls. Usually metadata does not include a person's name, but does reveal information like a phone number or IP address.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled metadata can reveal extremely personal information about you.

Welp, and now the Australians have it.

CSEC revealed it did not properly protect Canadian metadata before sharing it with the "Five Eyes" allies — the United States, the U.K, Australia and New Zealand.

CSEC says the problem was caused by "technical deficiencies" in their system and that the privacy risk is low because no names were shared. They won't say exactly what data was given away.

The good news is CSEC says they believe their allies will honour an agreement not to spy on each other and not misuse the information.

So, nothing to worry about!

CSEC discovered the problem at the end of 2013 but only revealed it now. They suspended the information-sharing until the system is fixed.

CSEC would not say how much data had been shared before they discovered the problem.

In theory, CSEC isn't supposed to be gathering data on Canadians at all. Its job is to focus on foreign threats, not domestic ones. But in the process of spying abroad they "incidentally" collect information on Canadians as well.

Metadata is a huge boon for spying and policing agencies because it is so easy to collect and can often be obtained without a warrant.

In 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada slapped down the casual collection of metadata by police forces by ruling they were breaching Canadians' rights to privacy online.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at

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