Baltimore principal's racist rant was an AI fake. His accomplice was arrested.

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A 42-second audio recording of a Maryland high school principal allegedly taunting black students as “ungrateful” and unable to “try their way out of a paper bag” while being racist. What did

“I'm so sick of the ineptitude of these people,” the voice shouted on the recording, which was posted on social media in January, sparking outrage and prompting the school district to put the principal on leave.

But according to Baltimore County police, the recording was not what it seemed. A school employee, investigators were charged Thursday, used artificial intelligence tools to manipulate audio to falsely portray the principal, Eric Assort, as bigoted and anti-Semitic. .

The employee, Dazhon Darien, 31, the former athletic director at Pikesville High School, was detained Thursday at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport as he was about to fly to Houston. Airport security officials, after detaining Darien because he was in possession of a firearm, discovered that a judge had just issued a warrant for his arrest. In the AI ​​case.

Darian, in a text message, declined to comment Friday and referred questions to an attorney who was not immediately available. He was released on $5,000 bond at a hearing Thursday where he was charged with disrupting school activities, retaliation against a witness, stalking and theft, according to court records.

Eiswert did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The case has drawn attention far beyond Baltimore County, raising fresh concerns about easily accessible AI tools that allow users, with just a few seconds of real audio footage, to identify politicians, celebrities, and more. and may allow the creation of reliable clones of ordinary citizens.

“Anyone can create these types of deepfakes, spread them online and destroy someone's life very quickly and easily,” said Hani Farid, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. said Hani Fareed, who was consulted on the matter by the Baltimore County Police. . “It certainly won't be the last,” he said, referring to the Baltimore incident.

Darien's arrest is another reminder that the public “shouldn't take what you see on the Internet at face value,” said Richard Forno, assistant director of the Center for Cybersecurity at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. “This can't be real. It's getting harder to trust your eyes and ears. You have to think critically before retweeting.”

AI and legal experts said investigators trying to bring charges for these types of cybercrimes are often hampered by limited legal procedures. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, whose office is prosecuting Darien, said the case “shows that we may need to pass new laws.”

“We were trying very hard to find additional things that he could be charged with, and we didn't have enough specific statutes,” Shellenberger said in a telephone interview. “This is a new area with AI and this is a new misuse of AI, and we have to create new laws to deal with this situation to prevent people from doing this and to punish those people. who have done so.”

The recording became an Instagram viral sensation. The user posted it on Jan. 17, sparking calls for Eiswert's firing, angering students and parents, and plunging the school district into a crisis that has drawn nationwide attention.

“The world would be a better place if you were on the other side of the shit,” one commenter wrote on a social media account belonging to Assort after the recording was released and, according to investigators, before it became clear it was fake. The recording prompted police officers to station themselves outside Assort's home as a safety precaution, and school officials to call in counselors to speak with students and staff.

Deray McKesson, a civil rights activist who said he was a former student of Eiswert's, was among those who initially called for the principal's firing. “I am in no way surprised by his comments in this recording,” McKisson wrote on X, where he has 932,000 followers, adding that Eiswert's “teaching and administrator licenses should be permanently revoked. It should be done.”

After Darien's arrest, McKesson wrote on X: “It's a mean thing to do. And I was wrong, as I thought the recording could have been accurate.

There were those who said from the start that they did not believe the recording was authentic, including the assistant principal to whom Essort was said to have made the remarks, who told investigators that “his believed that he had never had the conversation” and that it “does not appear as if he had observed it.”

Billy Burke, executive director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, the union representing principals and other public school managers in Baltimore County, also cast doubt on the recording's authenticity shortly after its release. “I hope we can learn from the damage this has caused,” Burke said in a statement after Darien's arrest. “I hope we learn that people are innocent until proven guilty.”

Following the release of the recording, Isort denied making the remarks, in a public statement, including that he wanted Darren's “black a–” removed from the school “one way or another.” I'm gonna get something to stick to.''

Prior to the recording's release, Assort was involved in a dispute with Darien that centered on a $1,916 payment the athletic director authorized to another school employee, who, according to the charging document, was his roommate. Matt was too. Esort alleged that Darien made the payment without obtaining proper approval.

During the investigation into the recording, police interviewed Esort, who told them he believed Darien had fabricated the recording, according to the police charging document. He also told an investigator that he did not want to renew Darien's contract because of “frequent work performance challenges.”

Tracing the origins of the recording, investigators determined it was sent via email to three school employees, including Darren, the day before it ended up on Instagram. One of the employees, who was not identified in the charging document, told police she sent the recording to a student “whom she knew was posting the message on various social media sites and throughout the school.” will spread rapidly.” The employee also told investigators that she sent the message to news outlets and the NAACP.

Darien, during an interview with police, denied any connection to the “existence and release of the recording” and said he did not know the person who emailed him the recording, according to the charging document. But the police, after subpoenaing Google, were able to link the email account to Darien.

As part of their investigation, police asked a University of Colorado forensic analyst who has worked with the FBI to listen to the recordings. The analyst, according to the charging document, concluded that “the recording contained traces of AI-generated content with human editing after the fact, which added background vocals for realism.”

Farid said he was the second forensic expert identified in the charging document, which cited investigators as saying “recordings were manipulated and multiple recordings were stitched together.”

Investigators said they determined Darien had a paid account for OpenAI tools. The company makes ChatGPT and the image generator Dall-E. But it's unclear which specific service was used to create the AI-generated audio clone.

The incident is one of several high-profile domestic cases in which the AI ​​audio DeepFax has wreaked havoc. In January, a Democratic political operative faked President Biden's voice for a robocall urging New Hampshire primary voters not to go to the polls. According to New Hampshire Deputy Attorney General James Bofti, the investigation is ongoing, and no criminal charges have yet been filed.

Legal experts say the Baltimore arrest is of interest, as criminal cases involving AI-generated deepfakes are rare. No federal deepfake law exists, and while more than three dozen state legislatures are moving forward on AI bills, proposals to regulate deepfakes are largely limited to political ads and nonconsensual pornography.

Tamarin Lindenberg, founder of Lindenberg Law Group, said a remarkable aspect of the Baltimore case is that the alleged perpetrator is not a shadowy, anonymous cyber network but a co-worker. “Abusers are not who you think they are,” he said. “It's a colleague, it's someone else at school.”

Farid said this The cases won't stop anytime soon given the rise of accessible, high-quality voice cloning tools. “Now that commercial applications for voice cloning … are available to anyone at minimal cost,” he said, “I hope we'll see more cases like this.”

Gert de Wenk contributed to this report.

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