Today news broke that Ethereum developer Virgil Griffith pled guilty to one count of conspiracy before his trial was to start tomorrow. There are many different ways to look at this court case and I will do my best to take a step back and look at the case and what was done as a whole. Was what Virgil Griffith really that bad? Or was this just a government overreaction?
Like I mentioned there are two ways to really look at this and the first way is the way of a blockchain purest. When looking what he was arrested for, violating the Emergency Economy Powers Act, he himself did not actually do anything illegal by presenting at this conference. What the Emergency Economy Powers Act covers is the exporting of goods, services, and technology to North Korea. While I do not know what exactly was covered in the blockchain conference it is not crazy to think that Griffith could say he was not providing services rather he was just listening to what the North Koreas themselves were presenting him. The good and technology part he can easily avoid as long as he didn't bring anything to North Korea that he ended up trading or leaving behind.
Honestly though it seems the Feds had a pretty solid case against him. Due to the reduced maximum sentence odds are both sides just wanted to move on with the Federal Government getting to send a message without completely destroying this guys life.
The counter argument revolves around a rather simple idea. North Korea is labeled as a state that sponsors terrorism. Going there overall should probably be avoided as it is dicey for US citizens at its best. Going there for a conference now that is just asking for trouble. This tends to be the side that I am stuck on as he had to have known better. Blockchain is possibly an amazing way to sidestep sanctions especially with privacy focused coins. Going forward and going to the Capitol city of a country that is still at war with one of the US's closest allies is just not the smartest thing to do. Especially when you are a US citizen.
At the end of the day though I think the 6.5 year max he is facing the honestly the best middle ground that could be found. He faced up to 20 years for his charge and if he spent the whole 20 years in prison its safe to say it would really end his life for the most part. There would not be much for either political party to advocate for him of either as he was helping a rouge nation who has been testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs! Not exactly a super friendly and encouraging state to work with as they are responsible for the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of their own people.
Hopefully this serves as a lesson to people in this space. Its not smart to temp the US government and its not smart to help a country that posts videos of hitting us with nuclear warheads.