Human Rights Foundation CSO Alex Gladstein: Virgil Griffith’s trip to Pyongyang betrayed everything that Bitcoin stands for

Yilun Cheng

American programmer Virgil Griffith's trip to North Korea goes against everything the blockchain ecosystem represents, Human Rights Foundation CSO, Alex Gladstein, told The Block in a recent episode of The Scoop.

On Nov. 29, Griffith, a prominent Ethereum developer and self-branded “disruptive technologist,” was arrested by U.S. authorities for giving a talk at an April conference in Pyongyang. He allegedly aided the North Korea government in violating U.S. sanctions.

Gladstein believes that there needs to be two separate conversations about Griffith’s case. Legally, it would set a bad precedent to unfairly punish someone for providing educational resources regarding blockchain and cryptocurrency. Morally, however, it is plainly unacceptable to assist such a repressive regime and Griffith’s actions contradicted crucial democratic values that blockchain technology represents to many.

“This is the least cyberpunk thing you could possibly imagine would be to aid and abet the world's most vicious tyranny,” he said. “This is, to me, a total travesty and a betrayal of all of the values that went into the creation of Bitcoin and Ethereum.”

Regarding the argument that providing technological information would help not only the government but also regular citizens, Gladstein made clear that flying on a jet to Pyongyang is far from the most effective approach to empowering the North Korean people. Tech professionals can instead help North Koreans by using methods proven effective by the Human Rights Foundation, he said, including sending flash drives and SD cards to the country to promote a cultural change among the population.

“Could you imagine someone going to Berlin in 1938 or 39 and delivering a technical talk to the Nazis, one that they may very well use in their social engineering experiments?” he asked. “I think we should be unequivocal about that people who care about a free world with privacy, rights, and freedom should not be training or providing expertise to regime officials in North Korea.”

Listen to the entire episode, here.