A federal watchdog says Canada's electronic spy agency broke privacy laws by sharing information about Canadians with foreign partners.

Jean-Pierre Plouffe said Thursday in his annual report that the Communications Security Establishment passed along information known as metadata to counterparts in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Metadata is information associated with a communication, such as a telephone number or email address, but not the message itself.

The communications agency intercepts and analyzes foreign communications for intelligence information of interest to the federal government.

Plouffe says he found that the agency lacks clarity regarding the sharing of certain types of metadata. He says there needs to be a new directive saying exactly how the agency can use Canadians' metadata.