Obama makes history with auto-pen

US President Barack Obama has made history by using an autopen - an automatic signing machine - from an ocean away to sign a legislation into law hours before expiry. And stirred a new controversy. Originally, there had been a plan in place to have a White House aide hand-carry the legislation re-authorizing the Patriot Act, a controversial set of anti-terrorism and law enforcement measures passed in the wake of 9/11, to Europe, where Obama was for G8 talks. However, the vote process was delayed, which meant that the bill might not have reached Obama before the act expired at midnight Thursday. 

So Obama authorised the use of autopen, a tool that exactly mimics the president’s signature and is more commonly used to sign Christmas cards and letters to schoolchildren. In 2005, then Deputy Assistant Attorney General Howard C. Neilson, Jr., released an opinion that stated the use of an autopen to sign a bill was constitutional. But this is the first time an autopen has actually been used to sign a bill - making it historic. But at least one congressman disagrees. Georgia Republican Tom Graves sent a letter to Obama Friday, stating he believes the use of an autopen in this context sets a “dangerous precedent.” Graves said he at first thought reports of the use of the autopen were “a joke.” Actually, the device traces back to the early 1800’s and was reportedly used by Thomas Jefferson, though not necessarily to sign bills. It can cost anywhere from $2000 to $10000. Only two companies in the United States make the devices. Each signature template costs about $175 to create. The more expensive autopens are automated and require programming a person’s handwriting into a computer.