The Wall Street Journal reports the Federal Bureau of Investigation would lose a powerful tool against terrorism if a federal ruling against the agency’s use of secret requests for information about individuals’ phone usage and electronic transactions isn’t overturned, a U.S. lawyer warned an appeals court hearing the matter. The agency each year issues thousands of the so-called “national security letters,” or NSLs, Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter said in the hearing Wednesday before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The letters allow the FBI to obtain records from telephone, banking and Internet companies without court approval as long as the bureau certifies that the records would be relevant to a counterterrorism investigation. “The NSLs are an extremely useful tool to use,” Letter said in the hourlong hearing before a three-justice panel.