It’s not like Chinese hackers stealing information about federal employees, but the news that the St. Louis Carinals may have hacked into the Houston Astros’ database and stolen player information has nevertheless stirred up some controversy. Contrary to what other commentators have claimed, criminal law expert Orin Kerr says that stealing information from another teams’ computers is indeed a crime:

The most obvious federal crime based on the alleged facts is 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2), intentionally gaining unauthorized access and obtaining information. Here’s the text:

Whoever . . . intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer . . . shall be punished as provided in subsection (c) of this section.

He adds:

Section 1030(a)(2) is just a misdemeanor, and federal prosecutors rarely charge mere misdemeanors. So the important investigative issue is whether the facts will support a more serious felony charge. You can get to different felonies in different ways, but the FBI is probably looking at whether any of the felony enhancements for 1030(a)(2) crimes may apply. Under the law, a 1030(a)(2) misdmeanor becomes a felony when any one of these three circumstances occur:

(i) the offense was committed for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;
(ii) the offense was committed in furtherance of any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any State; or
(iii) the value of the information obtained exceeds $5,000.

He concludes:

If the basic allegations are true, the hack was clearly a crime. The only question is how serious a crime it was.