Vitalik Buterin Supports Petition to Free Arrested Blockchain Dev

Vitalik Buterin Supports Petition to Free Arrested Blockchain Dev

Ethereum (ETH) co-founder Vitalik Buterin has declared his solidarity with Virgil Griffith, the American citizen arrested for his blockchain educational activities in North Korea.

In a tweet posted on Dec. 1, Vitalik shared a link to a blog post penned by blockchain firm CEO Enrico Talin, which had appealed directly to the Ethereum co-founder to start a petition in support of Griffith. 

“Let’s not have another Aaron Swartz martyr in our hands,” Talin had written, in reference to the hacker and political activist who killed himself in 2013 ahead of a high-profile federal trial.

Buterin: “geopolitical open-mindedness is a *virtue*”

Griffith, a 36-year old U.S. citizen living in Singapore, was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 29 and is set to be charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). 

The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Griffith of providing “highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”

Griffith is alleged to have illegally traveled to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to deliver a conference presentation — entitled “Blockchain and Peace” — on cryptocurrencies and blockchain. 

In declaring his support of Griffith, Buterin prefaced his arguments by disclosing a “conflict-of-interest” insofar as Griffith is a friend of his. He also underscored that the Ethereum Foundation had provided no assistance to his trip and was not affiliated with Griffith’s personal decision — one that, Buterin claims, “many counseled against.” This notwithstanding, he wrote:

“Geopolitical open-mindedness is a *virtue*. It’s *admirable* to go to a group of people that one has been trained since childhood to believe is a Maximum Evil Enemy, and hear out what they have to say. The world would be better if more people on all sides did that.”

Buterin further states that he does not believe Griffith gave the DPRK “any kind of real help in doing anything bad” — having only purportedly delivered a presentation based on already publicly accessible, open-source software. “There was no weird hackery “advanced tutoring,” Buterin contends, further arguing that “Virgil made no personal gain” from his visit.

Community ambivalence

Buterin’s arguments met a mixed response on Crypto Twitter, with some pointing to Griffiths’ decision to travel to the DPRK despite allegedly having been denied permission to do so by the State Department. One noted that — whether open-source or not — sophisticated code requires considerable skill and proficiency to serve as the basis of successful implementation. 

As previously reported, North Korea is rumored to be in the early stages of developing a cryptocurrency that would enable it to circumvent international sanctions.