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A Baltimore-area teacher is accused of using AI to make his boss appear racist

Dazhon Darien had allegedly used the Baltimore County Public Schools' network to access OpenAI tools and Microsoft Bing Chat before the viral audio file of Pikesville High School Principal Eric Eiswert spread on social media.
Michael Dwyer
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AP
Dazhon Darien had allegedly used the Baltimore County Public Schools' network to access OpenAI tools and Microsoft Bing Chat before the viral audio file of Pikesville High School Principal Eric Eiswert spread on social media.

A Maryland high school athletic director is facing criminal charges after police say he used artificial intelligence to duplicate the voice of Pikesville High School Principal Eric Eiswert, leading the community to believe Eiswert said racist and antisemitic things about teachers and students.

"We now have conclusive evidence that the recording was not authentic," Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough told reporters during a news conference Thursday. "It's been determined the recording was generated through the use of artificial intelligence technology."

Dazhon Darien, 31, was arrested Thursday on charges of stalking, theft, disruption of school operations and retaliation against a witness after a monthslong investigation from the Baltimore County Police Department.

Attempts to contact Darien or Eiswert for comment were not successful.

The wild, headline-making details of this case aside, it emphasizes the serious potential for criminal misuse of artificial intelligence that experts have been warning about for some time, said Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in digital forensics.

Farid said he helped analyze the recording for police. Baltimore County police also consulted with another analyst and experts at the FBI. Their conclusion was that the recording was suspicious and unlikely to be authentic.

For just a few dollars, anyone can harness artificial intelligence to make audio and visual deepfakes. Stakes are high, but deepfake detection software doesn't always get it right.

This Baltimore-area case is not a canary in the coal mine. "I think the canary has been dead for quite awhile," Farid said.

"What's so particularly poignant here is that this is a Baltimore school principal. This is not Taylor Swift. It's not Joe Biden. It's not Elon Musk. It's just some guy trying to get through his day," he said. "It shows you the vulnerability. How anybody can create this stuff and they can weaponize it against anybody."

Darien allegedly sought to retaliate against his boss

Darien's alleged scheme began in January in an attempt to retaliate against Eiswert, investigators wrote in the charging documents provided to NPR. The two men were at odds with each other over Darien's "work performance challenges," police wrote.

Eiswert launched an investigation into Darien in December 2023 over the potential mishandling of $1,916 in school funds. The money was paid to a person hired as an assistant girl's soccer coach, but the person never did the job, according to police.

Further, Eiswert had reprimanded Darien for firing a coach without his approval.

Eiswert had told Darien that his contract was possibly "not being renewed next semester," according to the arrest warrant.

The Baltimore County police launched their investigation into the alleged AI-generated recording of Principal Eiswert in January.
Julio Cortez / AP
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AP
The Baltimore County police launched their investigation into the alleged AI-generated recording of Principal Eiswert in January.

On Jan. 17, detectives found out about the voice recording purporting to be of Eiswert that was spreading on social media. The recording, which can still be found online, allegedly caught Eiswert saying disparaging comments.

"The audio clip, the catalyst of this investigation, had profound repercussions," the charging documents read. "It not only led to Eiswert's temporary removal from the school but also triggered a wave of hate-filled messages on social media and numerous calls to the school. The recording also caused significant disruptions for the PHS staff and students."

The school was inundated with threatening messages and Billy Burke, head of the union that represents Eiswert, said the principal's family was being harassed and threatened, according to reporting from the Baltimore Banner.

Eiswert told police from the start of the investigation that he believed the recording was fake.

Darien was taken into custody Thursday morning at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport after attempting to board a flight to Houston, Chief McCullough said.

Security stopped Darien over a gun he packed in his bags and when officers ran his name in a search they found he had a warrant out for his arrest, McCullough said.

Darien was released on a $5,000 unsecured bond. His trial date is scheduled for June 11.

"Where are our regulators?"

After following this story, Farid is left with the question: "What is going to be the consequence of this?"

He's been studying digital manipulation for more than 20 years and the problems have only gotten "much bigger and the consequences more severe."

Eiswert has been on leave since the audio recordings went public. Pikesville High School has been run by district staff since Eiswert left and the plan remains to keep those temporary administrators on the job through the end of the school year, said Myriam Rogers, the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools.

As for Darien, Rogers said, "We are taking appropriate action regarding the arrested employee's conduct up to and including a recommendation for termination."

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski said during Thursday's press conference that this case highlights the need "to make some adaptions to bring the law up to date with the technology that was being used."

Farid said there remains, generally, a lackluster response from regulators reluctant to put checks and balances on tech companies that develop these tools or to establish laws that properly punish wrongdoers and protect people.

"I don't understand at what point we're going to wake up as a country and say, like, why are we allowing this? Where are our regulators?"

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.