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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce isn’t yet “willing to make a blanket statement that everything other than Bitcoin is a security,” she said on Wednesday at the Medici conference in Los Angeles.

Why it matters: SEC chairman Jay Clayton and Commissioner Mike Piowar have both said publicly they've yet to see any initial coin offerings that don't look like a security.

Peirce’s view on the topic are nuanced, acknowledging that “there’s incredible diversity in what’s out there,” including tokens that are like securities, money, and other things.

  • She raised the possibility that some tokens’ function can change over time. While they may be like securities when first issued (say, to fund a project), they may take on a different function later (say, once their underlying network is operational).
  • She also admitted that “if the promoter [of a token] is not involved anymore, to pursue that promoter doesn’t make sense”—and important aspect to consider given that many projects are designed to be decentralized and not depend on their original leader.

Peirce said she hopes further guidance will come from the SEC's corporation finance division rather than its enforcement unit, which has been increasingly going after ICO fraudsters.

  • She encouraged entrepreneurs creating and developing digital tokens to engage with the corporation finance division and share how they’re building these technologies. “I want us to be able to play that role but we can’t do that unless you tell us what you’re actually doing,” she said.

She also outlined a preference for a more hands-off approach to helping financial entrepreneurs than some regulatory bodies’ use of sandboxes.

  • “On a beach, you have a life guard…. but she’s not sitting with the sand castle builders,” Peirce explained. Her concern is that regulators may get too involved in the development of new technology and steer it themselves.

Go deeper

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.