Yoichi Hirai, an Ethereum developer who had been acting in the capacity of Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) editor, stepped away from this role on February 14 following a contentious debate surrounding EIP 867.
The proposal seeks to establish a procedure for the recovery of lost or frozen Ether tokens that is significantly more streamlined than the process currently in place, which is, generally speaking, ill-defined.
The purpose of EIP867, according to language contained in the proposal itself, is to "provide a standardized format for Ethereum Recovery Proposals (ERPs), which relate to recovery of certain classes of lost funds. This EIP does not advocate for or against the acceptance of any particular recovery proposals," but aims to facilitate the return of funds to users in cases "where there is no disagreement about the right outcome between directly affected parties."
Hirai challenged a number of aspects of the proposal and even questioned the integrity of the system that tasked him with approving it. But the issue that ultimately kept him from reversing his decision to block EIP 867, he said, was his concern that in doing so, he would violate a Japanese law. The law in question states that a "person who, with the intent to bring about improper administration of the matters of another person, unlawfully creates without due authorization an electromagnetic record which is for use in such improper administration and is related to rights, duties or certification of facts, shall be punished." Hirai explained, "Aiding a crime by not acting is also a crime, and I suspect this applies if I dismiss my blocking review, or recuse myself," though he admitted, some 13 days into the debate, that he wanted "to unblock this and get out of here."
If it could be established that "EIP editors are not responsible for the contents of ethereum/EIPs," he said, he would be willing to unblock the proposal.
In the end, he conceded that a "guardsman should not resign right after seeing something suspicious," but in light of his belief that he had to study the law in order to fulfill his editor role properly, he concluded that his "abilities are not ready for the task of the EIP editorship."
Over the course of his discussion with other stakeholders, which took place on a GitHub page dedicated to EIP867, Hirai raised many questions about the soundness of the fundamental EIP process. This specific proposal, he said, gave EIP editors an undue amount of power in deciding which funds get returned, making the possibility of editor-bribing a more dangerous one.
His concerns over the centralization of authority were broader than just this EIP, however. For instance, he raised the question of whether "the existence of EIP editors are against the Ethereum philosophy. Ideally, nodes would run their custom Ethereum client and protocol changes would appear from chaotic communication pattern without a centrepoint like this repository." After all, as he noted, the Ethereum Philosophy states that no individual should act as "a single point of failure and a trusted operator at the helm."
In a statement with equally general implications, Hirai said:
"[Nobody] has the authority to make an irregular state change … [(which would be required in the event of a hard fork to return lost funds) due to] the lack of authorizations from Ethereum users. I don't think all users of Ethereum gave authorization to this EIP process, or know about the EIP process. The EIP process is not mentioned in the licenses of Ethereum clients. EIP editors are not chosen democratically either."
After his resignation, Hirai declared, "I don't regret having made a splash. I believe the issue deserved attention from the Ethereum community … I don't remember how and why I was chosen as an EIP editor … Whom could I represent? I think I was representing the virtual machine. Sigh."
Hirai went on to ask, "What would a lawful process with due authorization look like? A well-represented governance (including private key holders, miners, node maintainers, engineers) would be able to answer that question."
EIP 867 was proposed by Dan Phifer of Musiconomi, a company that lost access to 16475 Ether in the Parity wallet freeze, and two members of the TapTrust team, which had published a blog post exploring the possibility of a hard fork to recover funds in the wake of that fiasco.
Over the course of the debate, Phifer asked Hirai to recuse himself on the grounds that Hirai had "clearly indicated that [his] personal opinion will influence [his] actions in [his] official capacity. Therefore, it is a clear conflict of interest."
Less than a full day before Hirai announced his resignation, Afri Schoeden, a Parity representative and Ethereum community member (whose credentials include being a moderator of the Ethereum subreddit) called for him to step down in tweets that Hirai retweeted.
With Hirai no longer an EIP editor, five such editors remain, including Ethereum Foundation Community Manager Hudson Jameson. Jameson confirmed reports that he would lead a restructuring of the EIP process in the wake of the drama, at least in part to clarify what roles editors and submitters should play, and told ETHNews that, with regard to open and forthcoming EIPs, "Things will continue as normal while the community discusses how to improve the process." No indications have yet been given regarding how long the restructuring might take.
Weighing in on the debate around EIP 867, Ethereum Foundation member Alex Van de Sande said, "I believe our goal is to make irregular state changes rare and increasingly exceptional, with an exponentially increasing precedent. This proposal makes the opposite, creates a standard, bureaucratic process in which these recoveries become more common."
To this, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin replied, "Agree fully."
Van de Sande also suggested that in place of the ERP system proposed in EIP 867, the Ethereum community might consider creating "a common insurance pool" out of which reimbursement funds could be withdrawn, and that "all ICOs that use ethereum should be incentivized to, beyond doing audits and security reviews, to also donate 1-5% of their raised money for the fund."