Athletic director used AI to frame principal with racist remarks in fake audio clip, police say

Apr 25, 2024, 3:50 PM | Updated: Apr 26, 2024, 6:45 am

FILE — (Yevhen Prozhyrko, Shutterstock)...

FILE — (Yevhen Prozhyrko, Shutterstock)

(Yevhen Prozhyrko, Shutterstock)

A high school athletic director in Maryland has been accused of using artificial intelligence to impersonate a principal on an audio recording that included racist and antisemitic comments, authorities said Thursday.

Authorities said the case appears to be among the first of its kind in the country and called for new laws to guard against the technology. Experts also warned that artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly powerful, while the ability to detect it may lag behind without more resources.

Dazhon Darien faked the voice of Pikesville High School’s principal in response to conversations the men had about Darien’s poor work performance and whether his contract would be renewed, Baltimore County police said.

Concerns included allegations that Darien paid his roommate $1,900 in school funds under the false pretense of coaching the girls soccer team, police said.

Darien forged an audio clip in which it sounded as if the principal was frustrated with Black students and their test-taking abilities, police wrote in charging documents. They said the recording also purported to capture the principal disparaging Jewish individuals and two teachers.

The audio clip quickly spread on social media and had “profound repercussions,” the court documents stated, with the principal being placed on leave. The recording put the principal and his family at “significant risk,” while police officers provided security at his house, according to authorities.

The recording also triggered a wave of hate-filled messages on social media and an inundation of phone calls to the school, police said. Activities were disrupted for a time, and some staff felt unsafe.

“Teachers have expressed fears that recording devices could have been planted in various places in the school,” the charging documents stated.

Darien, 31, faces charges that include theft, disrupting school activities, stalking and retaliating against a witness, according to court documents.

Scott Shellenberger, the Baltimore County state’s attorney, said the case appears to be one of the first of its kind nationwide involving artificial intelligence that his office was able to find. He said Maryland’s Legislature may need to update state laws to catch up with the nefarious possibilities of the new technology.

For example, the charge of disrupting school activities “only carries a 6-month sentence,” Shellenberger said.

“But we also need to take a broader look at how this technology can be used and abused to harm other people,” the prosecutor said.

Baltimore County detectives had asked experts to analyze the recording made by Darien, according to the charges against him.

A professor from the University of Colorado-Denver told police that it “contained traces of AI-generated content with human editing after the fact, which added background noises for realism,” court records stated.

A second opinion from a professor at the University of California-Berkley told police that “multiple recordings were spliced together,” according to the records.

A Baltimore County detective found that Darien had used Large Language Models, such as OpenAI and Bingchat, which can “tell users what steps to take to create synthetic media,” court documents stated.

Online court records for Darien show that he posted $5,000 bond on Thursday. The records did not list an attorney who might be able to speak on his behalf.

Darien was arrested Wednesday evening before he was to board a plane at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough said. Darien was stopped because of how he had packaged his firearm for the flight, leading officers to learn he had a warrant for his arrest, according to McCullough.

McCullough said authorities had entered the warrant for Darien’s arrest into the system on Wednesday night with plans to serve it Thursday morning. The chief said he didn’t know why Darien was catching a flight to Houston and did not suggest that he was trying to escape.

The Baltimore County school system is recommending Darien’s termination, superintendent Myriam Rogers said Thursday.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly powerful and yet “very easy to use,” said Siwei Lyu, director of a media forensics lab at the University at Buffalo.

“You can basically upload any subject’s voice up to this platform,” Lyu told The Associated Press on Thursday. “And then you can give it text and you can start creating voices of that person.”

Online court records for Darien do not list an attorney who might be able to speak on his behalf. Authorities said Thursday that he’s being held in a local jail on $5,000 bond.

A recording of someone talking for a minute or two can be gleaned from social media and used to recreate someone’s voice, Lyu said, noting that it’s not always perfect.

Lyu’s research focuses on identifying AI-generated voices and images. He said the models are becoming more powerful, while detection methods are trying to catch up.

“It’s kind of like a perpetual cat-and-mouse game,” Lyu said. “But if I project the speed of development based on today’s situation, detection will lag behind because we have less resources and are not getting as much attention as the generative side.”

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Athletic director used AI to frame principal with racist remarks in fake audio clip, police say